Remember when you were in grade 4 or 5 and your teacher told you to look up something in the dictionary? And your 10 year old brain is thinking your teacher is an idiot because you need to know how to spell things in order to *find* them in the dictionary? I had one of those moments recently. I mean, not that I didn’t know how to spell something, but that I didn’t know what to look up to find what I was looking for.
During the winter in the Casa Di Swears, and in the Casa Di Famiglia before that, there is a bowl of nuts In the shell on the table. Sometimes fully mixed nuts including walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds. Sometimes Brazil nuts (my favourite, but bloody impossible to get out of the shell half the time). Sometimes pecans. The pecans have to be natural – I’d rather be bereft of pecans than have weirdly red pecans. If it’s up to me though, I just get hazelnuts and almonds.
My dad has the most amazing skill to crack a walnut exactly on the seam. He also knows the exact pressure to exert on all sides of a pecan shell to get the pecan out whole. Like whole-whole. Not whole halves. Whole. That’s sorcery for sure. I crush the hazelnuts into dust at least 83% of the time. Hulk Smash.
But sometimes… sometimes when you crack open a hazelnut or an almond, there are two perfect little half-nuts snuggled in the shell together. These are called Love Nuts.
When I was a wee little wisp of a girl and my grandmother would crack a shell to reveal a Love Nut, she would give one half to me. That was what you did – you gave half to someone you love. I’ve been carrying that quirky little … what would you even call it… a tradition?… For over 40 more winters. When I find one, I give half to Child. Before I had Child, I gave it to my Gentleman Associate.
I asked Auntie V about the Love Nuts thing. She said she didn’t remember the story quite the same way as me, but she had a fun anecdote. After you share a Love Nut (And she doesn’t even remember them being called that), the next time you see the person with whom you shared it, you yell “Philopena”. Apparently, my grandmother scared the skajeebers out of her sister by yelling it on the street once. I love that.
But it seemed so random. And no one knew why you had to say Philopena. Or what you won, if you won the game.
As I was preparing to write this post, I was looking for an actual scientific name for a Love Nut (double kernel? twin nuts?? Deesnuts???) And I found out that a double kernel is called a philopena. A philopena is an actual thing, not just a made-up game my grandmother and her sister made up. It’s mentioned in literature by no less than Proust and Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain! The etymology of it goes back to the early 1800s in different languages (Danish, Swedish, German, French) and cover both the game and the double kernel. Oh, man. I love a good etymology. I mean, it doesn’t follow the language trail to it’s completion at “Love Nuts”, but you can see how the logic works.
Last week, Child got his acceptance to the Royal Military College of Canada. At the end of June, he has the enrollment ceremony into the Canadian Armed Forces. He is a man with his future laid out for him, exactly as he hoped it would be. But the day after he told me he got accepted, I was cracking the last of the almonds in the bowl.
And there was a Love Nut. Because of course there was. I felt mournful.
There’s a part of the Harry Potter series where Neville Longbottom is visiting his parents in St Mungo’s hospital for magical maladies. His parents had been tortured to insanity. When he visits his mother, she doesn’t seem to recognize him, but she gives him gum wrappers. Tenderly, not like they’re just something without value. And Neville keeps them, accepting them like the gift they are. His grandmother doesn’t get it, but these gum wrappers are the touchstone of a relationship that Neville wants to believe is there.
Love nuts feel a little like that for me, kind of. Sharing half of a very small nutmeat. Hardly enough to chew. Certainly not enough to sustain you. Well, not physically, anyway. But when I find one, I still give the half to Child. If he’s not home, I save it for him.
Very soon, there will be an enrollment ceremony, then off to basic training, then off to school and then deployment. Child signed a 13 year contract without hesitation. That’s a lot of winters of potential Love Nuts. I mean, there will be leave during that 13 years, and certainly, some of that leave will bring him home to his childhood bedroom, where he’ll find a little bowl, with all the missed Love Nuts.
Someday, maybe, I’ll start giving the second half of the nuts to Mike again. But I’m not there yet.