Deep in the dark woods and briar thickets far from the nearest town in Ohio sat an old log cabin with a very rusty tin roof. Surrounding the cabin were tall oak trees and smaller trees with gray bark. Their long pointed yellow leaves resembled those of the poinsettia plant given so much during the Christmas season. Hundreds of round dark brown nuts covered the ground underneath these tall trees just waiting for some wayfaring stranger to stop and fill his pockets.
Squirrels jumped from branch to branch as they collected the acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts and wild buckeye nuts for their winter’s food supply. Chirps and chatters made the wooded area come alive. Colorful leaves of yellow, orange and red added a rainbow of colors to the forest. The woods were alive with animals large and small; each one aware that fall was in the air and it would not be long before Old Man Winter would make his appearance one more time. In the distance the cracking sound of a rocking chair moving back and forth could be heard. This was an indication that Elsa the fortune teller was at home and available to those who believed in her magical talents.
Elsa had lived in these dense woods all of her life as did her parents before her. She was a tall women and very thin in size. Her hair hung past her tiny waistline and tied with a colorful ribbon she had managed to take from the local hardware store. Beside her stood tall baskets filled with different kinds of nuts. Elsa had learned from her mother that she could sell nuts and make money. She could also make all sorts of necklaces, talismans and wreaths to sell during the holiday seasons. Her fingernails were cracked and uneven from shelling the nuts. The buckeyes took more time than did the other nuts. She had to dry them in the sun, and then oil them well to make them appear to be glossy. They were a good selling item to all the men in the area.
Few men walked around without a buckeye in his pocket in the state of Ohio. Elsa remembered her father carrying one in his pocket when she was just a small girl. He would take it out at night and rub it along each side of his nose to oil it well. He believed as long as it was in his possession he would not have rheumatism or be in need of food for his family. It was his good luck charm keeping him strong and masculine. He was indeed masculine for he had cut timber for years to provide for his family. He had fashioned the log cabin with his own hands. He had not been interested in beauty but in cabin that would protect his family from the bitter cold months and last for decades. He had accomplished his duty.
Elsa hummed a tune as she rocked to and fro. Around her waist was a handmade apron and in the middle of the apron, lots of buckeyes. Her long fingers reached for each one and rubbed it well with a cloth dipped in special oil she had made. This lot would be for the men to carry in their pockets. The next lot would be for women to wear around their necks. Elsa didn’t need a great deal of money because she raised her own food and trapped her own meat. She cut her own firewood and her thin fingers would weave the blankets she used for warmth.
Before Elsa could give a great deal of thought to her chores she caught the sound of a horse and wagon approaching. When it turned the last corner before reaching the cabin, Elsa saw a heavyset man sitting up front. He was wearing a straw hat and chewing on a huge cud of tobacco.
“Whoa Mule!” The man roared loudly as he pulled on the reins of the wagon. The wagon was filled with pieces of freshly cut wood he had purchased to burn for heat during the winter months.
“Howdy Ms. Elsa I hope this is the beginning of a bountiful day for you.” Mr. Johnston said as he spit a string of tobacco out of his mouth.
“Very well Mister! If I am alive it is a good day!” Elsa replied as her eyes scanned over the overweight man before her.
“Well Ma’am I would like to fetch some of your nuts for the Misses. She wrote down a list for me to give to you. She’s going to be baking cakes and pies this winter. We are about out of the nuts I got a few months back. Can’t seem to find many around where we live” He continued as he handed the white piece of paper to Elsa.
Elsa looked quickly over the list but kept a sharp eye on the man standing before her.
“I’ve got plenty of all this she has written on the list. Do you want one bag of each or more than one bag?” She asked as she stood up on the porch.
“Just give me a big bag of each one except the Buckeye. I’m the one wanting a few of those little darlings. I want a big shiny one for myself to keep in my pocket. I’ve got to keep myself smelling good and looking good for all the womenfolk around these parts.” He grinned. “I didn’t used to believe in all that mumbo jumbo till I stole a buckeye nut from a friend of mine. Sure does make a difference in how a man feels.” He laughed. “I reckon he misses his right about now!” He snickered.
“I’ll just be one minute!” Elsa nodded as she stepped inside the shanty. Within minutes she was back with four cloth sacks.
“This one is pecans, this one is walnuts, this one is hickory nuts and this small bag is your buckeyes.” She announced showing each bag to her customer.
“I’m sure your wife will enjoy them. You must be very careful with this buckeye though. It is a powerful little nut and works for a very long time. Just don’t give it away or crack it. That will be $20.50 for everything.” She said as she began handing the bags to Mr. Johnston.
“I’ll be sure not to crack it and I’m sure I’ll have lots of fun with all the ladies since I got a brand new shiny buckeye. I just love spreading my kisses all around town.” He winked.
Handing the money to Elsa he turned to step up onto the wagon. “Just don’t give it away lest you turn into a toad with warts.” She said as she waved goodbye to Mr. Johnston. It was not her business to fool around with some ungrateful tobacco chewing man. She had better things to do.
Now some folk do not believe in magic or the power of the buckeye nut. However, the story is told all over the south about how Mrs. Johnston woke up early one morning to find her husband had turned into a toad. He was sitting upon her pillow with a hug kiss upon his puckered lips.
His buckeye had been stolen by a young man who happened upon Mr. Johnston skinny dipping in the creek. Thinking it was a great practical joke he took all of Mr. Johnston’s personal possessions, one being the buckeye nut and the other his pack of tobacco. Mr. Johnston could never have known of his future with the infamous buckeye charm or so the story goes. Believe it or not many men still carry the buckeye in their pockets and many women wear them around their necks. Would you?
Question: What is a buckeye?
Written by Sybil Shearin
All Rights Reserved