Anybody out there recognize that picture? Anyone out there know what that is? The scientific name is Juglans cinerea but the common name is Butternut. Not squash although the above picture shows a squashed butternut in the Mason City Public Library parking lot. It is a type of walnut. It is sometimes referred to as a white walnut. I refer to it as agony.
Why, in heavens name, would I call this simple and seemingly innocent item “agony”? It doesn’t look like it deserves that title at all, does it?
Flash back about 48 years or so to a brick two story house sitting on the banks of the Ohio River at Hannibal, Ohio. Let me take you inside to the kitchen where four silver pie tins are arranged neatly on the yellow formica topped table. Beside each pie tin is a nut picker. Inside each pie tin is a collection of broken shards and bits and pieces of shells in various stages of brokenness.
In our household we had a job list on Saturday mornings. It was not uncommon for us to be woken up on Saturday mornings with loud music blasting through the parsonage. My Daddy loved music and he loved to use this method to wake up sleepy heads on Saturday mornings when he thought we had been sleeping in too late. I imagine it was a reasonable hour but I clearly recall that when I heard the strains of Handel’s Messiah drifting up to the bedroom that I shared with my older sister I cringed and hid under the covers.
Why? Because I knew one of the jobs on the job list for each of us was to pick out that dreaded pie plate full of nuts. I hated it. If there were still bits of the outer shell my hands got stained with the blackness and I hated, absolutely hated. that job. The pick would never cooperate. I could never get the nice large chunks out of the nut fragments like my siblings could. I got teeny tiny bits and pieces. Crumbs. We had a saying in our house growing up that “crumbs are more”. This usually applied to cookies . When all that was left in the cookie jar was one cookie and a pile of crumbs we tried to justify it by saying that “crumbs are more” and convince the other sibling to take the crumbs.
Those nuts got the best of me many times. I would do all of the other jobs on my job list that was usually posted on a sheet of newsprint. My Daddy loved newsprint. He loved lists. He loved making lists of jobs for us to do. And he obviously loved the taste of butternuts in cookies and nut breads so he tortured me with that silver pie plate of broken nuts—just waiting to be sorted and picked. Ugh.
I am scarred by the experience of picking butternuts. When I saw the broken pieces on the cement in the parking lot, staining the area where they fell and got run over by the many cars that come and go, those memories came flooding back to me. The agony of sitting there picking away at the nooks and crannies of the nut. Accidentally poking myself with the pick and drawing blood.
Oh I know that it really wasn’t that bad but in my young mind it was right up there with cleaning the bathroom sink that I could never get clean enough to suit my mother. She would always tell me to use more “elbow grease” to get it clean. Since I was such a naive little thing I asked where I could find elbow grease. My siblings lovingly concocted some awful looking container of ingredients that I could use. I have no clue what was actually in it but I do know that they got a good laugh at my expense.
Seeing the butternut brought back a flood of memories of childhood for me this past week. I quite honestly had a wonderful childhood filled with many happy memories . The butternut incident might have been exaggerated in my mind a bit but it did make me remember vividly how much I disliked that particular job.
Chris rode in my car last weekend and he picked this out of my cupholder to put his travel cup in its place. He looked at me with an expression that had me laughing. “Why is this in your cupholder?” When I responded “For a blog post” he calmly put it aside and said “it figures”. Yes…..nothing is safe from being written about on It’s Just Life.
Have you ever had an object trigger a vivid childhood memory like this butternut triggered mine? I would love to hear about it—comment in the comment section and remember that your comments are helping to make a donation to Hawkeye Harvest Food Bank this month.