Ballyhoo from the Chestnut Tree


I have been longing for the chestnut tree in my childhood back yard. The tree was big and wonderful and from the age of about 9 to 12, that was where you could find me. I would climb to the thickest, highest branch and sit with my note pad, writing down ‘stuff’ and softly singing songs from Heart, Abba, James Taylor and the Bee Gees.  From my branch, I could see the goings on of the crazy cat man to the right of our house. He scared the shit out of me but it was important to keep an eye on him, especially during the summer that my mom temporarily took one of his cats. She actually came to us and gave birth in the basement (the cat not my mom) to four kittens. We kept two of them, gave away two to good homes and then my mom took ‘Mama-Cat’ to get spayed (muttering something about pet responsibility) before eventually letting her go where she chose, which became a flip flop between the two houses depending upon the food supply situation. I remember one afternoon when the cat-man spotted me from his back yard, his scary, scowly, old man squinty eyes zeroing in on me up in the tree, asking “Have you seen one of my cats? She seems to have gone missing”. I muttered back a quiet “nuh-uh” as I watched at least seven cats dart around his porch. In my mind, he had enough cats and shouldn’t miss one. Now, of course, I understand that he clearly loved Mama-Cat as much as he did the other cats and I had no right to judge him or be so self-righteous (or a kitten thief). The cats were all he had. They were his children. He never had visitors and we probably should not have ‘borrowed’ one of his cats. I wish I would have brought him cookies or something (to make up for KEEPING the kittens that I was NOT giving back, ever). I would do that now, bring cookies, or reach out somehow because I have learned to see through the surface of the story a little better…

…but let’s go back (just for a minute) to the tree that was my childhood haven. As I write this, I can smell the sweet, white, spring blossoms, and the fat, pungent, star shaped leaves that would turn bright orange before falling into a different luscious scent of ripe decay that signified change.  I can feel the prickly green orbs that the blooms gave birth to… in my hand… fingers prying them open to reveal the most wonderful shiny smooth chestnuts that always, always brought to me delightful amazement. My mom and dad would pay my sister and I a penny a chestnut in the late fall, when they became a menace to the grass. One fall, I collected a big box of chestnuts, got paid by mom and promptly set a stand up at the curb with a sign that read: “BEAUTIFUL Chestnuts for Sale –Only Five Cents Each”, thinking that surely someone else would see the immense value these beautiful shiny nuts held, for they came from a place of complete joy…why would I not want to share them? I actually sold about a dollar’s worth of chestnuts that day…kind people encouraging a child’s unique perception of what holds value.

I want so badly to be in that tree right now. It is currently February and a dreary, cold, snow covered, five degrees outside and I am weary and tired of things as of late…and I long for my tree…but  I am a grown woman now…so it might possibly be frowned upon by the current home owners were I to seek out the tree of my childhood (which is only 20 minutes south of where I live today) and climb up on my branch and just sit there and THINK, legs dangling, and try to reconcile the child I was in the tree who was going to “WRITE and SING and share with the world every joy she KNEW and SAW even if it meant occasionally coming off her comfortable branch to greet fellow chestnut ‘lovers’ at the curb and describe to them the differences of each unique offering  and why ‘perhaps they should buy five of them, for the contrast of beauty’… with the person I am now, who has allowed a twenty plus year long career in sales to be the definition of who I am but not what I will let myself LOVE deep down inside where it COUNTS because “selling stuff for a living” is the scariest, most horrifying career choice a shy, tree dwelling, creative could possibly make. So I have continued to fight the idea that I have been living authentically all of these years.

With this ever nagging idea that “sales” is not what I should be doing,  I turn to my friend Merriam-Webster in hopes of finding a definition that is somehow less publicly scary and more altruistically creative:

Sale: the transfer of ownership of something from one person to another for a price. Synonyms: bargain, auction, horse-trading, negotiation, STEAL….hmmm.

Sell: to offer for sale to the public. Synonyms: deal, vend, put-up. Some related words: hawk, peddle, trade, boost, plug, promote, tout, dicker, chaffer and my favorite: BALLYHOO, the least likely word to be found in “Death of a Salesman” (which is encouraging) or anywhere else for that matter, which means of course I can’t WAIT to tell my boss how “it took a lot of ballyhoo to get the customer to buy my carpet ” because ballyhoo sounds so much more interesting than persuasion to get my job done …which actually helps me overcome what one dude said to describe the word ‘sell’ which was “giving your soul to the devil for money”. See??? I KNEW IT! Ha!

BUT! Climb up here on my branch and sit with me for a little while because it occurs to me that perhaps an aerial viewpoint might be the way to look at things during this time of my poor me, career choice consternation.  I sit with you now, legs dangling, not as the dreamy, shy, child afraid of the cat-man but as someone who has learned with the guidance of solid leadership, the encouragement of respected friends and the experience that comes from just digging in, to see through the surface of the story. Sales is not about manipulating or tricking someone into doing what they don’t want to do. Neither is it really very intimidating or scary. It is simply seeing past the prickly shells and zeroing in on the gorgeous, unique nut inside (are we not all nuts deep down?), discovering what will help each shine even brighter and bringing it to the table with ballyhoo which is “talk or writing that is designed to get people excited or interested in something” (like carpet!) and therefore a NATURAL career choice for a creative! SEE??? It looks so much better up here in the chestnut tree (thank you for sitting here with me!) I feel suddenly ready once again to enjoy the rich daily adventure that is my career, especially now that I know it involves ballyhoo. Ha!!!

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