Under The Walnut Trees …By JoAnn


I can describe summers in the South in one word…hot!  

Back in the 1960s, air conditioning was only a dream to rural families, so it was usually a little cooler outdoors on a front porch, or especially under the shade of a nice old tree.

Growing up in Tennessee, playing outside from dawn to dusk was a daily routine in the summer months.  My sister and I spent many hours playing in the shade generously offered from the woods that surrounded our mountain top home.  The only breaks taken were for a much-welcomed meal, or a trip to the little red outhouse.  

There were a vast variety of trees on our 11-acre property.  My favorites were beautiful Pines, Dogwoods, Apple, Peach, and Mimosa.  There was even a Persimmon tree that my mama loved.  I adored sitting under my favorite pine tree in the front yard, reading many a book from cover to cover.  

Most of these trees were ancient.  Two of the oldest were two Black Walnut trees, growing side by side, near our backdoor.  They were huge!  And gave us a delicious supply of meaty Black Walnuts every year.  They were a treasure to my dad, and Black Walnuts were his favorite nut.

Those Black Walnut trees offered shade for a lot of activities.  My mama had a clothesline there, just for clothes she wanted to shield from the sun.  My mama sat under those trees to snap fresh green beans from her garden, that she would later freeze or can for us to eat on all winter.  My sister and I often helped, along with shucking many ears of corn.  My least favorite of the two.  Still is.  My daddy loved to stretch out on his aluminum, webbed chaise lounge, after a long day of working in the garden, or weeding the property with a sickle.  No such thing as a weed eater back then. 

One of the most memorable activities that went on under those Black Walnut trees has to be my mama killing chickens.  I know that sounds violent, but on a farm, chickens aren’t just for eggs.  They are also for fried chicken dinners!  I have a vivid memory of being around age 4 and seeing Mama wringing a chicken’s neck, chopping the head off with an ax, and then plucking it of all its feathers.  I was afraid of chickens because they always seemed to chase me.  So, I guess this gruesome scene wasn’t so bad to me.  But that changed when Mama cut one of the chicken’s head off and the chicken got away from her.  It went running around the yard…well…like a chicken with its head cut off!  And you guessed correct; it ran straight for me!  To say it terrified me to my core would be an understatement.  I imagine it took quite some time for Mama to calm me down.  From then on, she somehow kept chicken day a very private activity.  

Unfortunately, times got tough financially for my parents one year, and my daddy had to make a tough decision.  He called a local furniture company and asked if it would interest them in his old Black Walnut trees.  They came out and jumped at the chance to purchase the tall beauties.  I remember the day they were cut down.  It was one of the rare times growing up that I saw my Daddy cry.  My dad was a big, brawny man, but he loved dearly every little thing on our homestead and took great pride in it all.

On a brighter note, fried chicken remains one of my favorite foods. As a child I just never connected the chickens my mama killed with the ones in the freezer, or the fried pieces on my plate.  Lol.   

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