Our driveway was lined with huge walnut trees. Maybe a dozen of them. Grandma had a lot of walnut trees at her house too, at least a dozen more. They provided shade in the summer for our driveways and yards, and they provided chores in the fall when the nuts fell. It seemed that Dad couldn’t bear the sight of kids who had no chores to do, so he saw to it that we were kept busy. In the fall we were kept busy with walnuts.
Usually around October, the nut shaker would come one day while we were at school. The man had a machine that grabbed a branch of the tree and shook it, knocking all of the nuts loose. Before he would come, Dad would scrape the ground flat under the trees to make it easier to pick them up. It wasn’t always that flat, though. When we’d get home from school, the nuts had been shaken from their drying husks up in the trees and they covered the ground.
We had an allotment to pick up every day–a bucket or two each. It was tedious work, but the weather was always delightful that time of year. We had contests to see who could find the smallest walnut. I still have some of my winners that are tiny, maybe three quarters of an inch long. As we worked, we had to wear old clothes because our knees and our hands would turn black from the dye in the husks. If the husk was still on the walnut, it had to be taken off. Our hands would often be stained for days during walnut picking season.
I doubt that we kids were able to pick up all the nuts that needed to be harvested. Grandma helped and eventually Dad brought the crews in to help get all the nuts off the ground before the weather got wet.
The filled buckets were gathered and brought home, where we dumped them onto a section of the driveway in front of the garage. Dad would put two by fours down to hold the nuts in and we’d enlarge the nut patch as we filled it, leaving them in the sun to dry.
Once they were dry, we’d shovel them into bins and Dad sold them to someone in bulk. But he always kept enough back for our families. Grandma used lots of nuts in her baking, and so did we. Only Paul got cankers from eating them.
The bad thing about the ones Dad kept back was that they were still in their shells. That meant they had to be cracked, and shelled. That job kept us busy throughout the winter months. My memory tells me it went on endlessly every day after school. It probably only seemed like it. I do remember we had quotas to fill. We usually had to shell a quart at a time. We’d use a hammer and anvil to crack the nuts, then we’d pick the meat out. I remember sitting for what seemed to be hours out in the cold shed with very cold fingers, shelling nuts. Sometimes we brought the cracked nuts in the house to work on them where it was warm.
Grandma always did hers on a cookie sheet in her chair by the TV. She stemmed raisins there in the same way. Once the nuts were shelled, we bagged them and put them in the freezer, or sold them to friends for a couple of dollars a bag. I don’t think Dad ever made enough money on those nuts to be worth the effort that went into picking them up and shelling them. But that wasn’t the point. It never was with Dad.