Iron Kinger

Several decades ago, throughout the northeast, there grew towering groves of American chestnut trees. It was an era before the blight that almost doomed the species to extinction. These noble hardwoods rose sixty to seventy feet in the air, with  large umbrella-like leafy canopies that blocked out the sun  and provided welcome patches of shade from the summer heat.

One such grove  of these magnificent chestnut trees grew in Cazenovia Park on the south side of Buffalo, New York. The trees grew right across the street from St. John the Evangelist Elementary School, where most of the kids from my neighborhood were interred for ten months of  every year. We noted the coloring process of the leaves, every day as fall approached. We were watching the development of our chief source of ammo for the months-long “Kingers” games that would occupy us into late November. The victors in these games would win bragging rights for the entire year. It was serious competition among the various bands of young  boys  from the surrounding neighborhoods of this small community. Billy Peterson and the Theresa Street Irregulars were particularly obnoxious rivals and we tried in every manner possible to best them in all such competitive endeavors.

During the fall season, these leafy giant chestnut trees would produce a thorny, egg-shaped, seed pod. It was  brilliant green in color, and has milky white spikes all around its exterior. The thorns were very sharp. The chestnuts were formidable projectiles when directed at a human target by mischievous  rascals. But, that was only a secondary value. Inside the pod was the treasure that we were really after.

Securing these green, spiky, projectiles was no simple task. We were, of course, in competition with those pesky  squirrels, who were laying the nuts in their nests as winter stores. That, and the fact that the chestnuts hung from the branches, of these imposing wooden chestnut towers, far above us.

Resourceful as most children are, we fashioned a  makeshift type of boomerang that could be thrown upward at the targets, knocking them loose from their branches and into our eager little hands. It seemed like we would do this for hours on end until darkness chased us in doors.

The real treat for us lay inside the pod.  After you succeeded in prying open the thorny seed-pod and peeled back the inner membrane, there lay  an egg-sized, mahogany chestnut that was smooth to the touch. It was rounded in shape, with an irregular, flat, white patch on its bottom. Some were larger and tougher than others. We examined them carefully, like jewelers looking for the perfect diamond. We then chose only the toughest and most resilient nuts for use.

Continue reading this story in “Christmas Comes to Kevin O’Leary”, available in Kindle and Nook format.