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by Teresa Gauthier

It was still light out when Claire got home. Loathe to go into the house to the dinner and chores waiting, she walked to her side patio and sat down on the beckoning chair. There was a very mild breeze and the temperature was pleasant. She relaxed in her chair and looked around at the calm waters of the Puget Sound on one side and the steep driveway guarded by tall maples, golden and rust, on the other.

In her pocket, she found the smooth chestnut that she had picked up yesterday. Admiring its deep auburn color, she let herself be transported through time to her home city in Ontario. She saw herself running along the gravel path and could hear her mother’s admonition, “Don’t go out of my eyesight!”

Her short red hair, unruly and curly was falling in her eyes, but she didn’t care. She saw a pile of dried leaves and jumped, spraying leaves all about, landing softly. Suddenly, she was pushed aside and almost flattened by her brother, who although younger, was already her size. He pushed her down and she rolled under and over to escape his punches, jumped up, and ran as fast as she could back up the path. She spied her mother and grandmother and stopped to watch. They were standing. arm in arm, by a large gray stone with writing on it. That was where Grandpa was buried.

Every year in the fall her mother and grandmother went to the cemetery. The leaves were glorious in their reds and yellows and oranges and the squirrels scampered up and down the trees, waiting to be chased by the pack of children that came most years in the old station wagon.

For the adults, it was a sad day of remembrance but for Claire and her siblings, it was a chance to run free for a short time in a lovely park, to play hide and seek, to kick the dried leaves, shouting and laughing, punching and chasing.

Some years Claire would sneak away to read the engravings on the headstones and calculate the age of the person buried there. They were young, middle-aged, or old, but were always “Beloved Wife, Mother, Husband, Son or Daughter”. She liked to find a tree and press against it, ruminating about those who were buried there and used to be alive, but now could not relish the colors, the breeze, or the peace under the trees.

Always she admired the large and magnificent chestnuts. Some chestnuts are edible but Grandma had warned her to not try eating these ones. She liked to fill her pockets, so she could sort and choose at home. Extra nuts were taken, just in case she needed to defend herself from her younger, boisterous brothers.

The last year Claire remembered going to the cemetery, it was just her and her mother. All the other siblings had parties or studies that kept them away. Claire’s grandmother had passed away that year. They stood side by side, arms linked, and looked at the gray smooth stone that now bore fresh engraving. That year, the chestnuts seemed smaller and misshapen. They remained unchosen, on the ground.

Claire’s reminisce was interrupted by the voice of her son, “Hi Mom. Wow, that’s a huge chestnut. Where did you get it?”

“On the sidewalk, by my work. There are all those ancient trees on 5th Street. Magnificent.”

“They don’t grow in our neighborhood, do they?”

“No. We have mostly alders and maples. Here, feel this. So smooth and such a deep color. Reminds me of your grandma. and your great grandma.”

“Yeah, I remember you told me you used to pick them up at the cemetery.”

“That’s right. Hmmm. I had forgotten I had told you that.”

Her son was handsome with his dark curls and chin stubble. He patted her back and turned to go, then stopped, saying, “Not at Dad’s, right?”

Claire looked at him with some surprise, “What? Oh, chestnuts you mean. No, I don’t think so. There are not many trees at the National Cemetery, just, umm, gravesites.” She paused, “I am going out there on All Soul’s Day to clean his stone. Do you want to come? We could go to lunch?”

“Nah. Not this year.” He walked away, then stopped, “Mom. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry dear. It’s fine. Maybe next year.”

“Mom, remember that song about the chestnuts roasting? Did you ever eat any? I have always wondered what they taste like.”

“Actually, Dad and I once bought some when we were at a Christmas market. Nuremberg, I think.” She smiled at her son. “Honestly, I think we threw most of them away. Not all that tasty.”

“Nice. You got to try.” He sighed and walked away.

She sat alone on her chair, listening to the gulls and the sparrows cawing and tweeting as they chased each other. She rubbed her thumb on the chestnut, over and over, shining it with her touch.

She would take her polishing cloth, along with vinegar and water to the cemetery, and clean the moss, accumulated during the year. The marble plate, set in the ground, with his name and rank and vital statistics, would shine when she was finished. She would place the chestnut to fill the space in the “D” of the inscription, “Pleasant Dreams My Love”. Claire hadn’t felt the need to inscribe, “Beloved” on his stone. It didn’t need to be said.

She stood up, ready to go inside. The breeze was picking up and she heard the rustling of the maple leaves, as they fell gently around her, swirling and bright, making small piles where they fell, too small to jump in.

Chestnuts by Teresa Gauthier
Copyright October, 2023- All Rights Reserved