Recently I got the notion to clean out my car, but the very first things I happened across were in the door pocket: nuts from the three trees in the yard of the house I grew up in. The walnut, the hickory, the oak.
Those three trees lined our front yard, separating us from the dirt road that ran by my childhood home. They provided budding greenery in spring, a shady place to sit in summer, mountains of gold and red leaves in autumn, and stark branches against an ashen sky in winter. That old house is gone. The dirt road is straightened leveled and paved. The last time I was in the neighborhood, though, those trees were hanging on.
The black walnut’s yellow-green leaves contrasted against its dark-gray trunk and branches. Robins and woodpeckers spent their working hours in its limbs. My big brothers used it as a target for the Bowie-style knives they crafted from old metal. A huge, horizontal branch held a tire swing for us kids, and it supported a chain hoist with which my brother yanked the engines from his hot rods.
Higher than we could reach was a hole in the trunk. Bees buzzed in and out. On lazy summer days we would sit on the porch and estimate just how much honey was waiting inside that walnut tree for us – if we could get to it safely.
The hickory leaned menacingly toward our house. On stormy nights, our family would listen to the howling wind, certain that the next gust would be the one to send the hickory toppling onto our roof like a stricken dinosaur, rendering our family extinct. The last time I was in the neighborhood, though, the hickory stood firm.
Cradled in the corner of the yard, next to the rocky driveway, was the massive oak tree. Acorns hung from its leafy branches, and squirrels built their nests in the forks of its limbs.
We collected burlap sacks full of the brown-shelled “hickor-nuts” (as we called them in the hills) and oily, tough-skinned black walnuts. On winter nights, we would sit by the fire and pick the meats from a bowl of cracked nuts. What we didn’t eat that night would be baked into my mother’s cakes.
That oak has taken on boarders – lichens, moss, ferns, vines. The hickory still leans like a slice of Pisa, but its roots have withstood the passing of wind and time. The walnut appears ready for a visit to some tree surgeon’s emergency room.
The walnut’s horizontal branch is as I remembered, but it sports a knothole big enough to drop a softball through. I would like to believe the sickly trunk still holds a wealth of honey.
Over the years, those trees have been joined by their offspring. Young oak, walnut and hickory trees grow in the yard and in the spot where our house stood before it burned. My old friends are merely the oldest and tallest in a family reunion of trees.
Someday – perhaps in my lifetime – the three trees will disappear. In my mind, though, they will always endure: the walnut, the hickory, the oak.
Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419