Gut Rumbles

November 05, 2003

chinaberry trees

If you've never played in a chinaberry tree, you missed something growing up. I don't see many of them around Savannah anymore, but I remember them being everywhere when I was a child.

I see them every time I drive the back roads coming home from north Georgia. Usually chinaberry trees are growing large and wild over some abandoned, dilapidated outbuilding on a farm and their branches seem to be hugging that old, weathered wood the way a mama hugs a baby. This time of year, the berries are yellow.

The berries are no good to eat (I believe that they are poisonous), but they make damn fine ammunition. Get a pocketfull of chinaberries and a slingslot, and you're fixed for war. If my mama knew half the shit my friends and I did with chinaberries when I was young, she'd have a heart attack.

I wrote a song about a chinaberry tree. Here are the words:

I remember Grandma's porch swing
It swayed with a squeaky noise
I must have heard that a thousand times
When I was a little, bitty boy
She had a bird bath in her back yard
Where I always liked to play
And a chinaberry tree for climbing
That I remember to this day.

My grandpa was a carpenter
And his old workshop was filled
With hammers, nails and scraps of wood
For the treehouses we would build
With a little imagination
Me and my friend, Lamar
Could defend a fort against Indians
Or fly a spaceship to the stars.


(I get to wishing every now and then
That I could go back to way back when
I was a kid in a chinaberry tree
And life seemed simple to me)

My mama always warned me
That I was gonna put out my eye
But I never could resist the thrill
Of a good chinaberry fight
Those berries stung like BBs
When they hit you good and hard
But I was John Wayne with a slingshot
Waging war all over the yard.


That tree blew down in a hurricane
Some 40-odd years ago
When grandpa died, they sold the house
And grandma just grew old
Me, I'm growing older, too
With a wife and a family
But sometimes in my sleep at night
I dream of a chinaberry tree

Yeah, I get get to wishing every now and then
That I could go back to way back when
I was a kid in a chinaberry tree
And life seemed simple to me.

It's really a pretty good song.


Damn, I haven't thought of chinaberries in a long time (no chinaberry trees in New England!)

I remember making chinaberry guns - Nail a small nail into the end of a piece of 2X4 and don't hammer it in all the way. On the top of the 2X4, nail down a clothespin. Hook a strong rubber band to the nail, stretch it up to the clothespin and clench it on the rubber band. Place a chinaberry inside the vee of the rubber down on the clothespin to release the rubber band.
Instant welts


Posted by: tomaig on November 5, 2003 02:19 PM

THAT was a chinaberry CANNON! Yeah, we had artillery, too.

Posted by: Acidman on November 5, 2003 03:54 PM

Woowie! Like I stepped into a Time Travel machine! And Momma's voice calling from the back porch, "You boys stop that this instant! You could put out an eye!"

Posted by: Ernie G on November 5, 2003 08:46 PM

Oh my,
I haven't thought about chinaberry trees in forever!
Maybe I'm not paying enough attention when I go out but I don't think I see as many now as I did when we were kids.
Those suckers HURT when thrown hard enough!
I always liked stepping on the unripe ones and watch the white juice ooze out.

Posted by: DeAnna on November 5, 2003 11:14 PM

Hadn't thought about them in years. I remember trying to make a bow and arrow set from chinaberry tree branches. When you peeled the bark off, the peeled branch was slicker than owl-shit and you had to wait a couple of days for it to dry out before you could continue. That would have been in Anderson, SC when I was in the first or second grade.

Thanks for jogging the memory.

Posted by: Jim on November 6, 2003 08:20 AM

Oh hell, is that what those trees are called. They grow all over central and south Florida.

Posted by: Andrea Harris on November 8, 2003 09:23 PM
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