Every year for about 10 years, my family accidentally grew pumpkins in our front yard. This is not the only plant we have accidentally grown but, for the sake of specificity and in honor of fall, we will focus on pumpkins. It was a normal family gathering. My parents and I spent the evening carving a pumpkin or two with the traditional three triangles, two for eyes and one for a nose, and one long crooked smile.
I must have been six years old or so. My dad went down into the basement and got out the big plastic tub labeled ‘Halloween’. Out of it, we pulled the same items every year. A ceramic pumpkin light, a tiny pumpkin candy dish, some black and orange garland depending on what was left over from school parties, leftover mock spider web materials from previous years, black spider rings also from previous school functions, some autumnal candles, and a stuffed animal black cat dressed as a pumpkin. Also in the tub was our pumpkin carving kit. We began originally with most likely a set of 10 knives, but over the years our collection dwindled down to about two. Each knife had a different jagged blade but they shared the same bright orange flimsy, plastic handles.
Along with the cutting tools, we also had scoopers. Our fingers always proved too weak or not efficient enough to get all the seed and guts out of our pumpkins, so instead, we used mason jar lids. These scoopers were amazing and I’ve always been in awe of my parents for thinking of it. The edges of mason jar lids are just sharp enough that they cut pumpkin guts from their base and because they are flat and round the orange gooey substance is easily removed, stacked on top of the metal disks.
Once we had all the materials, I went to town on the pumpkin. My dad cut a hole in the top of it making the perfect lid and quickly my small hands were inside the cold, round body. I grabbed as many seeds as I could in that first fistful and pulled hard. I felt the tension release under my arm, I heard the many, tiny snaps of pumpkin veins and out came my elbow, then my wrist, and lastly my fingers locked tightly around a gob of slippery, cold seeds. I tossed down the mess onto the newspaper laid out on our dining room table and went in for the next handful of stubborn seeds. The entire house smelled of wet dirt and pumpkin insides.
Soon it was dark, my pumpkin was empty and I was tired. We lit a small candle, put it into the pumpkin and placed the pumpkin on our front porch. It was windy and as the candlelight flickered triangle shadows cast upon the brick walls of our home. The air was crisp and I would hold my bare feet as close as I could to the lit pumpkin to keep them warm. We would take a couple photos and admire the pumpkins up close and from across the street to get the whole view. Jumping from foot to foot I would run back inside, feeling the warmth inside embrace my body as the screen door fluttered back to shut. After I fell asleep my parents would blow out the candle, but all I knew was that through the night my pumpkin was out there protecting us from any lurking evils.
A week or so later, once my pumpkin had turned into mush and little worms had found their way into it, we tossed the pumpkin into the front yard to decompose. The grass died in that spot and many birds found it a wonderful feeding ground for quite some time. The next year, late in August, we walked out the front door to find a tiny green vine emerging from the ground right where we had thrown out the pumpkin. Apparently, my tiny hands and even the scoopers had not gotten every seed as my pumpkin had latched itself into the dirt and impregnated it with a new patch of little pumpkins. A few weeks later we found that we didn’t need to visit a farm that year, we had managed to grow our own pumpkins.
After that first year, we continued to set out any decomposing pumpkins in that same spot so that each year we would have our own homegrown pumpkins. I remember vividly the joy of opening the door one morning to see that vine sprouting. I remember pushing aside the green leaves the bigger the vine got, the more it covered the yard, and searching for the little green bulbs that would soon become bright orange pumpkins. There was some disappointment in the matter too, like when bugs would get to the pumpkins before we could or before they could even become pumpkins at all.
This year as I think about visiting a pumpkin patch, I think back to living at home, being a child, and growing my own accidental pumpkins. I think back to mom throwing the seeds into that spot in hopes of a new batch, and dad mowing around that area in the off-season, leaving the grass long but the area perfect for pumpkins to grow. I think about all the kids who only know the joy of visiting the patch and not the joy of growing one. I feel lucky.
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