According to Dictionary.com the expression “Old Chestnuts” comes, ‘from William Dimond’s play, The Broken Sword (1816), in which one character keeps repeating the same stories, one of them about a cork tree, and is interrupted each time by another character who says “Chestnut, you mean . . . I have heard you tell the joke twenty-seven times and I am sure it was a chestnut.”’
I always thought the expression “Old Chestnuts” existed because chestnuts don’t keep as well as other nuts, and if you don’t roast them over an open fire around Christmas, they get moldy. Therefore an “Old Chestnut” was a joke you’d heard too many times, that was no longer fresh and was moldy.
I had a bag of Chestnuts I was planning to roast over Christmas, but had forgotten about, so around 25% of them were starting to get moldy. It occurred to me it might be fun to roast them with the little children at my Childcare, rather than letting them all go bad and then chucking them, (which is something that happens all too often to my plans.)
I myself am something of an Old Chestnut, I suppose, for I’m always doing things that are old fashioned. Perhaps I am a walking, talking anachronism, but I’m getting into playing the part. For example, no one uses the word “whippersnapper” any more, but I can recall being called one, more than a half century ago, so I dredge the word up and use it at my Childcare. It gets me some confused looks, and eventually one of the brasher children asks me, “What is a whippersnapper?”
That is half the battle, getting the little whippersnappers to ask questions, rather than informing me that I don’t know anything.
It is a bit amazing how children so short can rear up and look down their noses at me, considering they three feet shorter than I. However they do so on a regular basis, even though it means they practically fall over backwards.
I blame the modern schoolmarms. Rather than teaching youth to look up to elders, they apparently teach youth to look down on any who doesn’t agree with the schoolmarm.
For example, it is apparently now politically incorrect to call a five-legged sea creature a “starfish.” It must be called a “sea star,” because “it is not a fish.”
I personally don’t give a hoot what schoolmarms think. If “starfish” was good enough for twelve generations of Yankee, it is good enough for me. Furthermore, I refuse to be intimidated by a six-year-old looking down his or her nose at me. When they lecture me about using the word “starfish” I tell them that I already know a starfish isn’t a fish, and that is why it is called a starfish and not a fish. In the same manner a clam is not called a fish, but rather a shellfish.
Eventually word of my political incorrectness will get back to the schoolmarms, and I suppose I’ll wind up in trouble. Some things never change. I was in trouble with them when I was six, and I’m still in trouble at age sixty.
However you have to draw the line with schoolmarms. I drew the line at age six, and still do. When they tell me I should not use the word “Eskimo,” I say I’ll drop that word from the English language when Eskimos drop their word for “White man” from their language.
Any non-Eskimo boy would then become very curious. They would want to know what rude thing Eskimos call non-Eskimos. However schoolmarms never ask such questions. It would be rude to ask, and the answer would be rude, and rudeness is something schoolmarms recoil from.
Rudeness is left to men like me, and today was definitely a rude day. The water heater at the Childcare quit, which was rude of it to do. The plumber replaced the thermo-coupling, and left assuring the staff it would work, but the water stayed icy. Someone had to be rude, and inform the plumber he’d been a failure, and that someone was I.
For four years the Childcare’s brick walkway has lain flat, but abruptly it has turned into a bizarre rolling assortment of small frost heaves, which are sure to be rude and twist customer’s ankles. Whose problem is that? Mine.
Two of the farm’s goats became rude to each other, and one was wounded. Whose problem? Mine.
Even the mild weather was rude, making a minnie-mud-season and turning the driveway into a rutted swamp. Whose problem? Mine.
However that is what men do: Deal with the rude side of life. Or that is how it used to be, in the old days. They used to say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Now I suppose they should say, “When life becomes politically incorrect, the politically incorrect get going.”
(I think even schoolmarms know this. Back when I defied them at age six, they might not have approved of my defiance, or even have smiled, but the corners of their frowns did twitch a bit.)
In any case I made it through a day filled with hassles I did not expect to have to deal with, and finally arrived at the moment in the afternoon I’d been looking forward to, when I could teach the children what the words in the song, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” were all about.
I built a small fire on the far side of the pasture, up on a knoll above the mud of the lowlands (even the sledding trail now has patches of mud,) and away from the temptation of the frozen pond, (which I can still walk across, but don’t dare risk other parent’s children upon,) and I arranged flat rocks around the coals to catch the heat and roast chestnuts upon.
But wouldn’t you just know it? The boys were not the slightest bit interested in old chestnuts. They were instead hugely enthusiastic about a pile of small stones, (removed from an acre of vegetable garden over the past 200 years,) because they felt some treasure lay beneath all those cobbles. When I suggested they might be helpful if they gathered wood for the fire, a hunk of rotten stump crashed into the blaze, knocking all the roasting chestnuts into the fire.
To be honest, I got the distinct impression the boys saw me as a schoolmarm. Me! A gruff old Yankee! Apparently I was out to spoil their treasure-hunt with a sissy cooking-class.
I told them that, if they really preferred a pile of freezing cold cobbles to a warm and cheerful blaze, they cold jolly well just go and…continue their pursuit. I would teach cluster of small girls about roasting chestnuts.
I suppose certain schoolmarms would claim this makes me a sexist. After all, I taught the girls about cooking, but not the boys. However, if they thought this proved me sexist, then they might be reassured to know I didn’t let the girls actually handle the chestnuts, (they’re too hot, and fire is too dangerous.)
Of course, the little girls then thought I was a repressive schoolmarm, to not let them play with fire.
In the end you can’t win. I was in a bad position, because I was crouching, and this made it easier for the short, six-year-old women to look down their noses at me. Fortunately, I don’t care much about winning, and they’re cute when their angry.
Back when I was a whippersnapper, I don’t recall having “rights.” Now however, it seems schoolmarms advise whippersnappers they have all sorts of rights. I nodded, as I turned the chestnuts, and told the girls I agreed. They do have rights. They have the right to remain silent.
At last the chestnuts were roasted, and the little girls exclaimed about how good old chestnuts taste, (I was careful to discard the moldy ones.) The little boys must have overheard, for they appeared from the dusk, abandoning their gold mine to sit in the light of a dwindling fire, munching in a crouching circle around the fire like a group of squirrels with fire lit faces.
And I suppose the moral of this little tale is: Good taste doesn’t matter, but tasting good does.