When it's time to harvest, seventy-nine year old Eldon Jantz still uses those two long, polished hardwood sticks he found twenty- seven years ago when he beats those branches on the four remaining walnut trees surrounding his home in Chico. "Don't stand under the walnut tree," he warns, "it's going to start raining walnuts!!"
Being a city boy, raised on the south side of Chicago, I was anxious to help my brother-in-law, Phil, when he invited my wife and myself to join him to harvest walnuts at his parent's farmhouse. This was something that he and his wife, Tonja, did in the fall. It was a cool Saturday morning in October when the four of us ventured out of Sacramento.
To be honest, I hadn't expected to be much help. It was important that I had a comfortable chair in the yard to view all this harvesting of walnuts by everyone else. Much to my surprise, I actually participated in getting these walnuts processed from the tree to their final resting place, perhaps on a plate in the middle of some chocolate fudge.
We arrived around ten a.m. The sound of Phil's van crunching the gravel and dirt in the driveway cut through the country air loud enough to announce our arrival. Eldon and his eighty-year old wife, Margaret, burst from their home with open arms, roosters began crowing from somewhere close by, dogs began to bark from across the street and two neighborhood horses filling their bellies with fresh grass, stopped eating for just a moment to lift their heads over a fence and nod to us.
A couple of years earlier Phil got smart with the harvesting and instead of letting all the nuts fall to the ground and picked up by hand, he began laying two or three large tarps under the tree. This way, by picking a tarp of nuts up by all four corners, two people were able to funnel them into a 55-gallon drum. From this drum, the nuts had to have the outer cover removed by hand and the whole walnuts that are familiar to all of us were placed into another drum. This is where an old man like myself, sitting in a shaded lawn chair became useful.
I noticed my friend Eldon and Margaret used garden gloves to remove the outer shell. Apparently, this was for good reason. After removing a hundred or so outside shells, I watched my fingers turn dark brown like I've been smoking for 50 years and rolling my own tobacco. Fortunately, the stain disappeared after a couple of weeks.
After an hour of shelling, an Australian Shepard appeared at my side and introduced himself to me with a wagging tail. I stopped and scratched his back when Phil yelled over to me from the top of a ladder, "That's Hoot."
I questioned Phil as he continued to shake some stubborn walnuts off the top of a tree, "Did you say his name was Hoot?”
"Actually," Phil's dad spoke up, "We have two Shepards. The other one, called "Annie," isn't here right now. Surprisingly, I got it right away. They had named their two dogs "Hoot n'Annie.”
Early afternoon, we gave our fingers a break and stopped for sandwiches. Eldon and I leaned against his rusty 68 Chrysler pick-up truck sitting behind a barn in some tall grass. Patting her fender fondly, like a member of the family, he commented that she still runs like a charm and continues to transport him to the city and back whenever called upon. Then Eldon told me about his workweek. In spite of the fact that he'll be turning eighty on his next birthday, he's still working a full forty-hour week at Collier's Hardware, downtown Chico. People wait in line to talk to the "ole' man with the suspenders." Personally, I don't think I could handle a job "sitting" for a forty-hour week, let alone "standing" on my feet.
I had to quit whining about myself the rest of the day. I just continued to huff and puff trying to keep up with Mr. Jantz of Chico.
Quip for the Day; To be seventy years young is sometimes more cheerful and hopeful than to be forty years old.
Dennis “Dutch” Packard. Born 1935. Artist (Oil, Cartoons, Ink Drawings) Public Speaker. Author. (Syndicated Columnist) presently writing Vignettes in several California publications under the column “DUTCH TREAT”.)