Of Acorns and Diamonds

Every few years the oaks produce a bumper crop of acorns; so many, in fact, that walking in the yard can be hazardous. The hazard is twofold. The greater danger is that underfoot, the acorns take on the properties of ball bearings and, especially on hills, there is a distinct possibility of taking a fall. The lesser danger is one of getting bonked on the head as the acorns plummet to the ground. You can hear them coming as they crash through the leaves and you instinctively put your hands up to protect your head as you hunch over to brace for the impact.

Such was the case as I walked in the back yard the other day, doing my best to dodge the acorns impacting the ground all around me. It was then that I noticed a squirrel sitting in a small chaise lounge drinking what looked to be iced tea. As an acorn crashed towards the ground, his little paw shot out and he caught the nut before it hit the ground. I evinced a certain amount of surprise at the event, from the incongruity of a squirrel sitting in a chaise lounge to the actual catching of the acorn, and the squirrel regarded me with cold disdain. ?I do wish you would stop making so much noise,? he said to me, I’m trying to read.? Stupidly, I said ?should you be doing that?? Doing what?? he asked. ? ?Sitting there and catching nuts like that,? I replied, ?I thought squirrels just scampered around the yard gathering nuts and putting them away for the winter.? ?No need,? he replied as he reached out and grabbed another acorn, ?there will be no scarcity of acorns this year, so why bother ‘scampering about,’ as you put it.?

Indeed, as I looked more closely, I saw that he probably was beyond the scampering stage, being a little on the plump side. It was then that I noticed that many of the squirrels within my sight were a bit on the plump side. Clearly, the squirrels were taking advantage of the situation.

A day or so later, I noticed 6 or 7 squirrels gathered around a small mound of dirt in the back yard. Standing there on their hind legs, heads bowed, it looked ever so much like a funeral. As they broke up, I saw the squirrel whose acquaintance I had made previously and I asked what had just occurred. ?It was Bede,? he said, ?he misjudged the distance from one branch to another and fell.? As he told me this, he gestured to a dent in the ground a few feet away. Upon closer inspection, I found the perfect outline of an overweight squirrel stamped into the ground. Bede had made quite an impression. It was obvious that he had not taken into account his extra weight as he launched himself into the air. Oh, he had reached the other branch and had even managed to grasp it in his front paws, but it had snapped under his weight, causing Bede to fall. I knew this from the impression of a branch in the dirt, clearly still being clutched in his little paws..

I was reminded that, occasionally, long held perceptions come crashing to the ground. Someone in authority tells you something and, if you have no information to the contrary, you tend to believe it. As adolescents, we soak up information from a variety of sources and we don’t often discriminate as to the source. What we hear enters the general knowledge bank. Some of this information we shed as we get older and come to know better. Some is so inconsequential that it gets lost in the noise of every day life. The fact is there, we believe it, but never bother to go further, to learn if the perception actually is true.

And so it is that after 50 years of listening to The Diamonds sing Little Darlin, that I learned quite by accident that the singers were white. In the 50s, we knew that they were black. People told us so. ?Listen to their voices,? we were told, especially the bass singer. White people don’t sound like that. A universal belief, still held today, is that you can tell racial type by the sound of a person’s voice. And there is perhaps enough coincidence in matching our perception with perceived reality to cement that perception is our heads as fact.

I might have gone blithely unaware of my own bit of personal prejudice had I not tuned into the local PBS station and caught part of a program on Doo Wop. There, on the stage, were members of original acts as they reprised songs they first recorded in the 50s and early 60s. For the most part, if there were no video, you would think you were listening to the original recording. The video gave them away and I almost wished I not not tuned it. I resented being reminded most directly that I was not much younger than they. As the camera panned over the audience, you realized that the average age was the late 50s. Old teenagers mouthing words to lyrics learned in another age.

One group had just finished singing as I began to watch and The Diamonds were announced. I waited to see if they going to sing Little Darlin, to see what it sounded like after all of this time. I was amazed to see a group of white haired senior citizens, all white, walk on to the stage to the applause of the audience and break into Little Darlin. It was the same group, right down to the bass singer with his deep melodious voice. Was no one in the group surprised by this turn of events? Did no one else have their perception of the group so radically altered? How could I have gone this long and never realized the truth of my prejudice?

I filled in the impression left by Bede and put down grass seed. The fall rains will do the rest.