Memory of Roasted Chestnuts

Roasted Chestnuts


ROAST CHESTNUTS
Roast chestnuts? You have eaten them of course—who has not? Better still, who has not roasted them for himself before the open grate, or, lacking this beneficence, upon a hot griddle of the kitchen range, while the winter wind whistled merrily at doors and windows, coaxing you to come outside and join him in his frolics, to become half playfellow, half the sport of this jolly, rollicking reveler?
You did not go, certainly not. You let the wind whistle, and stayed to watch the fat, brown chestnuts swelling in the heat— swelling, expanding, till at last they burst all bounds, and revealed the rich, creamy gold of the juicy meat beneath; stayed to romp with those other companions nearer and dearer than the wind, those brothers and sisters and neighbor-friends who seem now like spectres of some far-distant land and time.
How real then! How the fire did gleam and crack; how red the apples and the cheeks! Vividly, it all comes back to-night as we turn the gusty corner from Eighth Street to Broadway, and the wind—ah, that same wind, just as boisterous and frolicsome as of old—flings into our very faces the odor of chestnuts roasting in the pan of a street-vender who—
What, it revives no memories, that odor? You see no visions of faces and fire and home, nothing but this forlorn little old man with his tin box and charcoal fire, nothing but these hurrying crowds, these clanging cars, these faithless lights? Strange. Where, then, were you born? West—Fifth Street? Ah, poor, destitute soul— what a threadbare background for life, to have always seen these same sights, to have always felt the rush, the unavailing haste of these barren streets filled to overflowing—never to have known the sweet simplicity of fields, of unpaved streets, the quiet enclosures of Nature's own seclusions, the elements of a simplicity that alone makes for reality.
Fate, you say, has denied you this basic web for the years of your weaving. You cannot see my visions, do not hear the wind in orchard tree-tops, or the sputtering of the nuts on the hearth? Then, though we tread the glaring length of Broadway together, we must needs walk leagues apart.
But you, reader? Surely you, too, are not both city-born and city-bred. No? Good. I should have known it. Else why did the bare, undignified title of this little piece attract you? I scarcely need to tell you what visions are borne on the breath of an evening wind brushed by the aroma of roasting chestnuts.
You, too, can see those spreading fields of grass and grain and wood, the low, rambling farmhouse and scattered out-buildings, the old cow-pasture with its queer, straggling paths up the hillside, the deep, cold spring, the daisy patch where the first wild berries grew. You know how the water raced between the narrow banks of the wayside brook after a heavy rain; how soft the mud to bare, brown feet.
You, too, can hear all those separate sounds that, blended into a perfect third, form the dominant chord of Nature's Halleluiah Chorus —the twitter of birds at dawn, the soft patter of rain, the sighing of wind through hollow arches of the big, black ash in summer or its bare branches in winter, the ripple of little rills, the lowing of homeward-coming cows, the twilight chirp of small insects, and the majestic roll of distant thunder in the still night. You can hear them now because the ear that has once been attuned to such sounds never forgets the separate melodies, or fails to recognize their harmony. Likewise, you can smell the incense of blossoming clover, the fragrance of ripe, red berries, and of yellowing cornfields.
Cornfields! How a very few days in one's life actually stand out. Shall I ever forget that Saturday when, free from school, I must follow the corn-planters with their hand machines across the field, up and down the endless rows, engaged in the unromantic task of "sticking" pumpkin seeds? Irksome enough at any time, especially so on a day when trout were leaping in the brook, and there was a new colt to be examined and appraised. How could any boy justly be asked to "stick" pumpkin seeds on such a day, even in consideration of hungry cows or with a view to Thanksgiving pie?
There must have been some extenuation of circumstances for the lad who, impatient to be done, put riot two seeds as bidden, but from six to a dozen in a hill; who, when a convenient hollow stump presented itself, deposited a goodly handful therein. Thus was the supply of seeds soon exhausted, work done, and freedom gained from bondage.
Alas, that morning many days later when the boy's father followed his cultivator between the rows of tender, green shoots of corn, and beheld on every side, solid phalanxes of sprouting pumpkin seeds that had so faithfully performed their duty! With what amazement did the boy, summoned again from play, view them. Why, he had never even thought of their sprouting, never once dreamed that they would arise to accuse him. The deception, the very incident, had been forgotten by him before night that other Saturday.
But the seeds! They had not forgotten. There they were, every last one, saucily, shamelessly starting up at him from the tips of their pale green leaves.
Imagine the fear and trembling (not a figure of speech) in which the lad waited for judgment, a judgment so long in coming—as long as it took him to follow his father back and forth across interminable lengths of that measureless field, between those sickening rows, until the last impudent colony of pumpkin seeds had been passed. Imagine, too, the effect of absolute silence the while, a silence whose growing weight increased the heavy burden of a small boy's heart and lagging feet.
Final judgment: "Son, I want you to remember one thing. You can't fool Nature. You mustn't put seeds into the ground, and not expect them to come up."
That was all. Dear dad! He had never heard of pedagogy, yet that lesson so silently drilled and so tensely, tersely applied, that is the one of my schooling that stands out most clear-cut. Remember? I couldn't forget.
And so to-night, with the whiff of roast chestnuts on the wind, the whole cycle of those boyhood years grows vivid. I live briefly again all those old, dear experiences, see the home faces, and turn like a startled lad to look within, wondering if, perchance, I may have dropped some seeds, forgetful that their one undying end and aim is to sprout, grow, and bear harvest—always.
How simple, how commonplace a thing is the dissolving fragrance of roast chestnuts, but how rich, how redolent when stored with the wealth of a world of priceless memories. C. C. D. B.
 
Efficient Composition: A College Rhetoric
 By Arthur Huntington Nason