Archive for October, 2011

On My Own

October 31, 2011

 

 

I’ve been talking all week about taking pictures, about this weekend being the final one before all the leaves are gone. I’ve mentioned several times how pretty I bet the countryside is going to be. I’ve said I want to spend some time this weekend taking pictures.  I didn’t go yesterday, it rained and snowed. Today was Sunday, the last day of the weekend. It was now or never.  

When I got up this morning, Bruce was busy gathering his lawn maintenance equipment, gas cans, short little keys to the mowing machines on the trailer he pulls behind the truck. As he does every day of the week, he planned to work.

The sky was bright, clear with a few white puffy clouds. A slight breeze blew in from the north, and the leaves were on their way to becoming the gold and brown of past peak. After yesterday’s weather, it’s definitely the last weekend for colorful reflection. When the wind blows this week, leaves will rain off the trees.

“I’m headed to the doctor’s office in Crozet to mow and get up leaves,” Bruce announced on his way out the door. See you later this afternoon.”

I stood dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe it.

After growling low in my throat and pulling my hair in frustration, I charged my batteries, put the camera in my pocket and stomped to the car. My plans included a trip to Mint Springs, Sugar Hollow, and Beaver Creek Dam. I wouldn’t be home until later this afternoon either. To heck with laundry, dusting, dishes, toilets, sinks and tubs. The winter wardrobe could just hibernate in its plastic tub one more week. The boys wear shorts all winter anyway.

I sped through Crozet ten miles over the speed limit before the colors of my purpose slowed me, calmed me enough to notice them. The mountains to my west pulled me to their reds and yellows. The blue sky met them on the horizon to make a palette of primary colors and their secondary offshoots of orange, green and purple.

Mint Springs is closest to home and the sun was still low in the east. I’ve been admiring a barn for the past year, but the light hasn’t been right when I’ve been there. It was my first stop, and I was feeling adventurous. I don’t usually break rules. When Bruce does, I get nervous, stand back, and worry about getting caught. I’m not a good Bonnie to his Clyde.  My heart beats fast; and I hesitate.

Today, on my own and angry in my independence, I stepped around the locked chain and no trespassing sign guarding the barn and the orchard to the west of Mint Springs Park. What could happen to me? I had no gun, was only armed with a camera, and all the apples had already been harvested. Not a soul was in sight, but I didn’t care either way. I took my time, and found the angle I needed with the sun behind me. On the other side of the red barn with its rusted roof sat an equally rusted hulk of a truck, its steering wheel open to the air, its engine and tires missing. A highway of weeds stretched out in front of it. In the distance, an abandoned gray hornet’s nest, clung to a bare apple tree branch. Pay dirt.

Back at Mint Springs’ lower lake, I surprised a young couple as they walked their dogs through the woods on the edge of the tree line.  “Beautiful day,” I announced as they walked past me.

“Oh hi,” the girl said.

“Great day to get out and enjoy the leaves, huh?” the boy said.

“Sure is,” I said. What I didn’t say was, “I’m glad you saw fit to accompany your other half on an outing today. Glad you didn’t have grass to cut and weeds to pull and parking lots to sweep.”

I got in the car and drove the ten miles farther west to Sugar Hollow. Halfway there, a pine tree lay in the road blocking my path. Several cars had parked on this side, their passengers obviously deterred. I wasn’t.  Making sure there were no oncoming cars, I swerved to the other side of the road and drove through the top of the pine, paying little attention to the branches as they scraped the side of the car. “Let Bruce polish them out,” I said to no one in the passenger seat.

I stopped at the bridges and snapped the river. I parked at the reservoir, walked down the hill and took some shots of the huge split rock. I walked down the path, and sat on the bank overlooking the lake. Following the shoreline, I took pictures of a duck swimming in the distance.

“Hi,” a man sitting in the sun behind the windbreak of a boulder said.

“Oh, you scared me,” I said putting my hand to my heart.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to. Getting some good shots?” he asked.

“Beautiful,” I said.

“You should have been here yesterday evening with the snow under these trees. It was magnificent.”

“I bet,” I said, wondering where his other half was. “Any luck with the fish?”

“Nope, too windy, I think.”

When my heart got its beat back to normal, I headed up the bank to the main road and back to the car. I still had one more stop.

Beaver Creek Dam is three miles from home. Local boys launch their boats from the shore and spend all day fishing from one end of the lake to the other. When I arrived, I was the only one parked in the lot. The sun was at such an angle, I had to walk to the south and into the shade of some trees to avoid glare on the water. As I stepped along the edge, my shoes squeaked in the wet grass. Yesterday’s freak snow had left its moisture behind. Frogs plunked into the water from a half-submerged log, and birds rustled in the dry leaves of the cat tails.  When I reached my destination, I looked in the distance to see a couple of young men in a flat bottom boat fishing along the bank. One of them waved to me, before the boat turned left into a shady inlet. I thought about our boat at home in the garage. Today would have been a perfect day to take her out.

It was three-thirty when I pulled into the driveway. I had two hundred seventy-nine photos stored on the memory card. My feet were muddy along with the seat of my pants from sliding down an embankment at Sugar Hollow. My face was pink with windburn and my muscles were tired from all the walking I did. I was calm though, most of my anger having been exercised. I leaned back in the car seat and closed my eyes.

I awoke to a peck on the window.

“Where you been?” Bruce mouthed.

I turned the switch and lowered my window.  “Where haven’t I been?” I said. “Mint Springs, Sugar Hollow, Beaver Creek Dam.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were going?” he asked. “I could have gone with you.”

“You had work to do,” I accused.

“Shoot,” he said, “that could have waited until tomorrow.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head as I was reminded just one more time that men don’t take hints. They need a billboard and at least three reminders.

 

 

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Searching

October 24, 2011

I’ve been meaning to drop by Mint Springs all week. It’s that time of year, my favorite. Bruce has heard me talking about it every night and I still haven’t found time to drive the five miles west of home to get there. My window of opportunity is closing,  next week will be too late.  

 This afternoon, Bruce sat at the kitchen table looking at the wooden box of golden delicious apples on the floor.  “What are your plans for the rest of the day?” He asked.

 I knew his plans. He wanted to make applesauce. That’s what he’s been talking about all week.

 “I want to go to Mint Springs,” I said, not following his gaze.

 “If we don’t do something with these apples, they’re going to rot.”

 “I know,” I said.  I’ve been avoiding them.  We had spent the better part of a cold evening in early October culling them from the orchard in Batesville. I was the one who insisted we go. Bruce had worked a full day mulching and was tired, but he followed me out to the car and made the ride to the apple orchard.  

The trees are planted on the side of a  terraced mountain, each row on its own rise. It was a gray, bitter day and I had forgotten my apple picking sack. I gathered the ends of my jacket together, forming a pocket. We gathered apples until I looked nine months pregnant with a bumpy baby.

 Bruce kept picking while I made the trek back to the car to unload my burden.  Halfway down the slope, I slipped, fell, and rolled to the ditch below. I lay there amongst my harvest, laughing and wondering why I bothered with all the hassle when buying a can of applesauce in the store is so much easier. That was three weeks ago, and the apples still waited.

 “What do you want to do?” he asked, bringing me back to present. He was also sighing because he knew his argument would be lost on me when I had something else on my mind.

“I really want to go to Mint Springs,” I said with more forcefulness.

 Bruce frowned in that way he does when he’s thoughtful, or scheming. “You know there’s that apple tree over there I haven’t checked yet,” he said, suddenly excited. “Get your camera, let’s go.” I gathered my equipment and headed to the car.

My idea of a trek to Mint Springs and Bruce’s is different. We follow the same path around the lake. I look for reflection in the water, color on the trees, texture, and symmetry, a feeling.  He searches for apples, firewood, and stocked trout.

I’m not complaining. I got my shots, just like I wanted. And Bruce, he collected enough apples to replace the ones we lost to my procrastination, and some firewood for the stove, but no trout.  He’s going back tomorrow with his own equipment, a fishing rod and tackle.  I’m staying home to make applesauce.

Truth Hurts: A Pumpkin Patch Horror Story

October 16, 2011

One day, a farmer climbed aboard his tractor and tilled the soil.  He walked the garden, picking up rocks and throwing dried bits of last year’s crop over the fence.  When he turned from the barbed wire, he noticed an odd sight.  What had been forgotten, something left behind and ignored, suddenly interested the farmer.  He bent down and dropped to one knee next to a pumpkin.

“Oh my gosh,” the farmer exclaimed, “where did you come from?”

He reached out and touched Jack’s skin, then picked him up and looked where the pumpkin had lain in the straw.  The farmer tested the stem and followed Jack’s vine to the roots near the edge of the garage.

 The farmer scratched his head and said, “Well I’ll be dogged, you lived through the winter.  You’re one strong pumpkin.”
The man hurried away and in a few minutes he came back with his wife puffing behind and trying to keep up.

“Can you believe this?” the farmer asked.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said, bending over the pumpkin. “We’ve had a few volunteer tomato vines and flowers come up, but those grew from last year’s seeds.  I’ve never seen a pumpkin plant live through the winter.”

She patted Jack and said, “You are one special pumpkin, aren’t you Jack?”  That’s when Jack got his name.

Other pumpkins grew in the patch, but Jack was different. Now he was the oldest, biggest, and wisest of the pumpkins.  He’d earned the distinction; he was a tough, hardened, second-year inhabitant of the patch.  And, he was the farmer’s darling.   When the farmer walked through the garden with other people, he stopped at Jack, pointed to him, or patted him, and said, “See Jack here?  He’s special.  I’ve never had a pumpkin like him. He’s destined for greatness.”  Even when the farmer was alone, he’d make his way over to Jack, rub him, check him for pests, and say, “How are you today, buddy?”  Jack shined a little brighter orange as he basked in the attention. However, life for Jack had not been without struggle.

The previous year, Jack had been a late bloomer.  When everyone else was harvested, Jack was only the size of a baseball, round, and green.  Somehow, his seed sprouted and his vine grew right along the garage wall, under the overhang, and out to the southern end of the garden.  Jack was a baby when the rest of the pumpkins were cut from their vines, loaded into wheelbarrows, and set in the wagon behind the garden tractor.

Jack had felt sad and unloved, left behind and alone.   When the soil was turned, the plow came within six inches of ripping his roots from the ground.  Jack watched and waited, holding his breath, shaking and feeling his insides tangle, until the farmer parked the tractor in the garage for the season.

Jack was relieved that he’d been spared.  At the time, it was lonely in the patch with no one to talk to, but a solitary life certainly beat death.  This he believed, until the weather changed and temperatures dropped.  He had felt frost on his skin once in a while, but not every night.  When the cold really set in, Jack sometimes wished he’d been turned over with the dirt and left to rot.  At least he would have a blanket of soil over his cold, decomposing body.  Jack’s vine lost most of its color and became brittle.  The smallest leaves froze and dropped to the ground.  The edges of the bigger leaves curled and dried. The pace of the garden slowed and its breath became shallow.

Living in the south saved him from a deep freeze, but Jack was hungry most of the time.  He felt life slipping a little more each day.  The sun that warmed him came up late and set early.  Nights were the worst, especially clear nights, when the stars were like sharp bits of ice that penetrated Jack to his core.

The farmer spent a good deal of time in and around the garage.  That’s what saved Jack. The garage was heated by a wood stove. Jack watched the man take the chainsaw into the forest beyond the garden.  He heard the whine and the crack of timber splintering. The man returned, carrying wood and stacked it near Jack’s vine.  Each day, the farmer came out to the stack, gathered an armload and walked back into the building.  After that, Jack heard the crack and pop of fire and felt a slight change in temperature, warming the soil around him.  He came to love the sound of the saw, the smell of sap from pine shavings, and the sight of the farmer gathering wood. All of this meant heat.

Jack’s growth slowed through Thanksgiving and stopped by Christmas.  When he didn’t think he could stand the cold one more minute, the days began getting a little longer and warmer. A subtle change came over the garden. It breathed a little deeper and sighed under the sun.

Activity picked up. The farmer turned rows for peas and potatoes, planted hills with squash seeds, ran wire for the beans and cucumbers, and planted more seeds around Jack in the pumpkin patch.  They sprouted and bloomed.  Bees buzzed and pollinated the flowers.  Small pumpkins began growing into baseball-size spheres, just like Jack had grown the year before.  Jack welcomed each one as it came to life.  He was already orange by this time, and about the size of a honeydew melon.

The smaller pumpkins looked up to Jack, respected his wisdom, and asked him questions about the garden and the farmer. They asked about birds and bugs, and about their purpose in the patch.

“You are pumpkins,” Jack told his patch mates with a deep voice of authority.  “You will grow to be orange, round and big—not as big as me—but big.  The farmer will nurture and water you, keep the bugs from biting you, and dust powdery mildew off your vine. He will bring his family, children, and grandchildren to admire you.”
Jack was a storyteller. The farmer’s family had talked as they worked the garden and harvested vegetables the year before. Jack listened and now he had tales to tell.  He sharpened his skill in the winter when he shivered under the dark, night sky.  His imagination became a comfort from the chill.  His storytelling grew bolder as he grew bigger and rounder.  Jack was quiet during the day, basking in the sun, keeping his thoughts to himself, but at night, he entertained the others.  The pumpkins’ excitement grew as they learned of their importance.

Depending on his mood, Jack could make the pumpkins feel happy with some stories, and sad with others. He even told a few scary stories. Most of these came from times in his past when he was afraid, cold, and alone. He liked to tell happy stories, the tales that brought him through the hardest situations in his life. What the other pumpkins did not know, there was time enough for scary stories. The pumpkins best days would draw to a close sooner than they knew.

“Hey Jack,” called Autumn Gold one night.  She was a beautiful pumpkin, more golden than orange, and she only had eyes for Jack.“Tell us a good story,” she asked in a sultry voice.

“Well, it’s almost Independence Day,” Jack said.  “The Fourth of July is a holiday for people.  They have picnics, they stay home from work, they attend carnivals, and at night, after dark, they watch fireworks.”

Jack explained what it would look like.  He told the others that the family would come to the garden and choose one pumpkin to take with them to the festivities.  The chosen one got to decorate the picnic table during the feast, ride the Ferris wheel at the carnival, and sit on the blanket under the stars watching the fireworks explode and sparkle in the night sky. Autumn Gold seemed to sparkle herself after listening to Jack’s story.

“Do you think they’ll choose me?” she asked him.

“You never know,” Jack answered.

On the Fourth of July, the farmer and his wife came to the garden and selected several ears of corn from the stalks, a basket of tomatoes, four onions, a handful of lettuce leaves, and a colander full of beets.  Pumpkins were not chosen.

“They didn’t choose any of us, Jack, not one,” Autumn Gold complained. “They even harvested those ugly beets and smelly onions.  How could you be so dishonest? I thought we meant more to each other than that,”  and she didn’t speak to Jack until the next month.

Jack wondered if he should just stop telling stories.

“Tell us a good one, Jack,” Baby Boo said one night.  Baby Boo was small and the only white pumpkin in the patch.  He was often teased by the other pumpkins because he was different.  Baby Boo was the only pumpkin his vine produced.  Jack felt for the little guy and tried to make him happy.

“The farmer and his family go on vacation to the beach each year,” Jack said.  “They come to the patch and choose a pumpkin to take with them on the trip.  That pumpkin gets to ride in the car, swim in the ocean, build sand castles, and lie in the sun on a beach towel watching the ocean waves ebb and flow on the sand.”

“Aah,” said the collection of pumpkins together, imagining all those things.

“Do you think they’ll pick me?” asked Baby Boo.

“You never know,” said Jack.

Vacation time arrived.  The farmer and his family came out to the garden to harvest some vegetables for their journey.  They chose squash, cucumbers, green beans, and tomatoes. They didn’t choose a pumpkin.  The family talked at length about their beach plans.  They asked a neighbor to water the garden and help themselves to anything ripe.  The farmer, his wife, and children, all walked out of the gate and were gone for a week.

“You said they’d take one of us,” said Baby Boo in disappointment.  “You lied Jack. How could you be so mean?”

Jack didn’t want to lie, but he liked happy stories best, ones with fun and warmth.  He didn’t like to think about the future.  He kept those stories to himself.

One night, the farmer came out and walked through the pumpkin patch. The garden breathed quickly and it captured Jack’s attention. Something was up. The farmer lifted some of the larger pumpkins a few inches off the ground, Jack being one of them.

“Jack, I love your size, but you’re a bit lopsided,” the farmer said,  “must have been that long winter lying on your side, like you did.  Too bad.  I think you’d win the ribbon.”

The farmer went back in the house after weighing and measuring several of the biggest pumpkins.

“Hey Jack,” called Big Max. Big Max was the biggest specimen in the garden, other than Jack.  The farmer had spent a long time with Big Max, lifting him onto a scale and winding a measuring tape around his girth, careful not to damage his vine.

“What’s going on with the farmer?  What’s all the fuss about?”

“Well,” Jack said, “every September there’s the County Fair down the road.  The farmer comes out to the garden and chooses one pumpkin to take to the fair.  That pumpkin is washed and polished and put on a wooden display rack in the vegetable tent for the people to come and see.  Other farmers bring their pumpkins, and the biggest, best looking pumpkin, gets a blue ribbon and their picture in the newspaper.”

“Yeah, sure it does, Jack,” Big Max groaned.  “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

All the other pumpkins agreed with Big Max. They turned their backs on Jack and stopped talking to him.  This made Jack mad.  He’d spent his whole summer sharing his wisdom, helping his patch mates understand how things work.  And he kept a secret. Jack saved them the heartbreak of finding out their future.  He sacrificed his own integrity to make them happy, and this was the thanks he got.  Well, he wouldn’t take their feelings into account again.  Jack’s heart turned to pulp.

A few weeks later, the farmer walked into the garden with several bushel baskets. The pulse of the garden seemed to change, its breath grew rapid. The farmer carefully went over every vine in the garden, selecting the very best ears of corn, heads of cabbage, beets, onions, green beans, butter beans, cucumbers, yellow squash, zucchini, and cantaloupe.  He loaded the baskets and put them on the back of the wagon.

“See,” Big Max said. “I told you, not one pumpkin.”

“Yeah,” said Autumn Gold and Baby Boo at the same time.

“You’re nothing but a liar, Jack,” said Funny Face, a bright orange pumpkin with a perfect shape.

Jack sighed.  “Just wait,” he said, “you’ll see.  I know more than you think I do.”

In about an hour, the farmer and his oldest son came out to the garden and carefully sliced Big Max’s vine from his stem.  Together, they hefted him up and carried him out of the garden.  He was placed in the wagon with the other vegetables.

Jack didn’t say, “I told you so.”  He didn’t offer an explanation.  He let the others stew in their own juices. Jack stayed quiet. He stayed quiet for over a week.

Big Max returned with a blue ribbon tied around his stem.  The farmer and his son brought Big Max back to the pumpkin patch and took his picture with a camera.

“Hey, Jack,” the blue ribbon winner apologized,  “I’m sorry I doubted you.  I’ve been to the Fair and it happened just like you said. You were right. It was a beautiful week.”

“Congratulations, Big Max,” said Jack, “the ribbon looks good on you.”

“Thanks,” said Big Max. The farmer and his son hoisted Big Max again and said they were going to display him in the front yard for everyone to see.

“We’ll sell lots of pumpkins when people see we’ve won this ribbon,” the farmer said.

“Bye, Big Max,” Jack said.  “Hope we get to see you again sometime.”

It was late September, and the days were getting shorter.  Most of the pumpkins had grown into good sized orange rounds.  Jack was still the largest, and so large that some men who came to the patch attempted to lift him, but couldn’t.

The other pumpkins tried to get Jack to tell more stories, yet his heart wasn’t in it.  He gave excuses and encouraged others to take up the hobby of storytelling.  Trick or Treat, one of the tall pumpkins on the other side of the patch, tried, but couldn’t quite get the knack.  He told boring tales of arguments between the hybrid and heirloom pumpkins, or an incident where the farmer’s wife tripped with the clothes basket, fell in a heap, and stomped back into the house to re-wash the clothes after she wallowed around on them.  The stories would have been funny, except everyone had already witnessed them first hand.

“Please tell us another story, Jack,” Baby Boo begged one night.

Jack didn’t have any happy stories left.  He didn’t want to tell another story and he certainly didn’t want to tell the scary stories he knew.

“I don’t think so,” said Jack.

“We’re sorry we ignored you, Jack,” said Autumn Gold.

“It’s not that—” Jack trailed off.

“What is it then?” asked Funny Face.

“I only have scary stories left,” said Jack, “and you don’t want to hear those.”

“Yes we do, Jack.  We want to hear scary stories.  It’s been so long since you’ve told us a story.  Please Jack, please tell us a scary story—please,” pleaded Baby Boo.

“OK,” said Jack and he thought he heard a sharp breath from the garden. He ignored it.

“It’s almost Halloween,” he began, “and Halloween is the scariest time of year.  People lose all control during this holiday.  October begins soon, when the weather gets colder. After the first frost and during the harvest moon, the farmer will come with his sharp knife and cut your vine.”

“Cut our vines?” The others asked.

“Yes,” answered Jack, “one day, he will walk the patch with a long, sharp knife, hunting pumpkins for harvest.  He will come up from behind, and when you least expect it, he’ll sever you from your vine, leaving just a stump at your top, like he did with Big Max.  He will pick you up, load you onto the wagon, and prepare you for the night of terror.”

“Terror?  What do you mean terror?” Baby Boo asked.  “Big Max got to go to the Fair.  He got a blue ribbon.  He gets to be on display in the front yard.”

“Besides,” said Autumn Gold, “the farmer wouldn’t harm us. We’re special.”

“I told you, people lose control at Halloween.  I’ve been around a long time.  I’ve seen things, you know,” said Jack.

“We don’t believe you, Jack,” said Happy Face.  “You’ve told us lies before.”

Jack could hear the uncertainty in their voices.  They weren’t sure. Jack didn’t want to say anymore. As he watched their fear grow, he felt bad. He shouldn’t have gone this far. He shouldn’t have let Baby Boo sway his resolve. Jack grew very quiet.  The garden rustled with anxious leaves.  Jack wished he could turn back time.  He knew their curiosity would get the better of them.  He knew they wanted to know their future, no matter how horrible it sounded. They wanted to know the outcome.

“Where will he take us once he cuts us from the vine, Jack?” asked Baby Boo, with a shiver in his whisper.

Jack decided then that if he was in their place, he’d want to know the truth, too. He knew the horror and it wasn’t fair to hide it from them.  Jack had heard the farmer and his wife talk about it.

“He takes you to—the Farm Stand.”

“What’s the Farm Stand?” Autumn Gold gasped.

“It’s a place in front of the farmer’s house.  He will put you on display and sell you to people for Halloween.”

“Sell us to people—for Halloween?  Why?” Funny Face asked.

“It’s a holiday for people,” Jack said, his voice deepening with emotion. Then he paused, gathering his courage, “but not for pumpkins.”

“What do you mean?” asked the other pumpkins, the pitch of their voices rising.

Jack started, “Halloween is hideous.  Horrible things happen to pumpkins on Halloween.  Most do not survive.”  Then he stopped, afraid to continue.

These pumpkins were his friends, but they’d never understand.  They’d blame him for their fate. Jack felt the change in the seasons. Summer was gone.  He remembered it from the previous year.  The nights were colder now.

“Well don’t stop there,” Autumn Gold whispered.  “What horrible things?  We have a right to know.”

Last year, the farmer’s family members came to the garden for first choice of pumpkins, before the farmer harvested them to sell. The patch listened to the farmer’s tales in disbelief. The accounts were terrifying and left them all shaking in fear. Jack remembered, feeling the hairs rise on his vine.  He never knew for sure whether the stories were true, but the other pumpkins of the patch screamed in horror as they were taken. Jack had never known the farmer to lie, either.

“Come on Jack, you have to tell us. What will the people do with us on Halloween?  What will happen?” asked Baby Boo.

Jack took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  He felt the tendrils around his seeds curl and he thought he might be sick.

“Well,” he hesitated, feeling flushed even as the night grew cooler.

“Go on, go on,” Funny Face encouraged him.

“Well,” Jack began again, “some of you will be carved with knives.  People gut you, slice chunks out of you to make a scary face, then put a burning candle inside your hollowed out carcass.  You sit at the front of the house on Halloween night to scare children.”

There was a pause in the garden.

“Oh, how awful.  To be tortured and then made to scare children.  Who thought of this Halloween anyway?” The pumpkins began to speak together.

“People,” Jack said.

He didn’t tell the other pumpkins that he was special.  He didn’t tell them he’d be spared.  

“You said they’d do other things, Jack.  What other things?”

“Some of you will be peeled, your flesh cut into pieces, cooked, mashed and baked in an oven.  People will eat you.”

Some of the pumpkins began to cry.  Murmurs and moans erupted in the patch.  Jack even thought a few lost some of their color.  Jack took another breath, so he could finish.

“Teenagers sometimes steal pumpkins from front porches on Halloween night and smash them to bits in the street—where cars run over what’s left.  And, for those who have been spared torture, once the season is over, pumpkins are rolled down the hill behind the house and left to rot under briers while mice and other scavengers gnaw at your flesh and nibble your seeds.”

“You can’t be serious, Jack,” said Autumn Gold.

Jack felt smaller than Baby Boo.  If only they hadn’t persisted.  If only he hadn’t known the truth.  He wished at that moment that he was as naïve as the rest of them.  For the first time in his life, he wished to be alone.  What had he done to his friends?

Jack watched Baby Boo. The small pumpkin looked even tinier than usual, sitting there, all alone on his own vine, with no one to comfort him.  Jack wanted to take it all back, to tell them it was all a lie.

He whispered, “It’s the truth.”

“Don’t believe him,” said a voice from the other side of the patch.  “You’ve believed him before, and he’s lied to you.”  It was Trick or Treat, one of the tall pumpkins.

“That’s right,” said Autumn Gold.  “He’s lied before.”

“It can’t be true,” came Baby Boo’s small voice.

“He’s just trying to scare us into thinking he knows more than we do,” said Funny Face.

All the pumpkins began talking at once, trying to convince themselves and each other that Jack was wrong.  Trick or Treat had planted the seed.

“What I think,” said Trick or Treat, “is that Halloween is the grand holiday just for pumpkins and Jack wants to scare us, keep us away from the festivities. Look around you.  All the other vegetables have been harvested.  We are the only ones left.  There must be a reason.  I bet the farmer’s saving us for the biggest party of the year.  Independence Day, Vacation, and the County Fair were just small change compared to our party.  I think the Farm Stand is a happy place. Why, I bet the farmer and his family harvest us, dress us in fine clothes, decorate their house in shades of orange, dance with us and treat us like kings and queens.  We’ve spent a long hot summer in this dirt for a reason, and it’s not to be carved up, eaten, smashed, or gnawed.”

“Yeah,” said Funny Face.  “He’s right—Trick or Treat is right.  Don’t believe what Jack says.  He thinks he’s the farmer’s favorite.  He just wants to leave us out of the fun.  He wants us to be afraid so we won’t go to the party.  He believes he’s the king, but he’s not.”

Jack didn’t defend his honor.  He didn’t want to take away their dreams.  He longed for a fancy party, where his compatriots dressed in fine clothes.  He wanted all of them to be crowned in a grand coronation, like in the stories of the farmer’s granddaughter.  He knew better though, and sat quietly as his friends shunned him.  Jack fell asleep, a dejected and lopsided pumpkin.

That very night, the sky was clear and the weather turned dreadfully cold.  At first light, a sheen of frost coated each pumpkin.  They all shivered under its sparkle.  The pumpkins whispered among themselves.

A sudden breath from the garden awakened Jack. The farmer and his wife opened the gate and the hinges screeched. The couple held sharp knives. They began harvesting the pumpkins, one after another.  The couple moved each one carefully in the wheelbarrow and then lifted it onto the wagon behind the tractor.  Some of the pumpkins talked about the party they might attend, while others were quiet.  A few cried and screamed. The farmer and his wife talked in low voices and pointed here and there. When the harvest was complete, the only pumpkins left on their vines were Jack, Autumn Gold, Baby Boo, Happy Face, and Trick or Treat.

“Why do you think he left us here?” Autumn Gold asked Trick or Treat.  She had stopped talking to Jack.

“Because we’re the best of the bunch,” answered Trick or Treat.

“Do you really think so?” asked Baby Boo.

“I know so, Boo,” said Trick or Treat.

“What happened to the others?” Happy Face asked.

“They’re helping to decorate the party,” said Trick or Treat.  “Planning and creating the biggest party of the year takes some time.”

Three long weeks passed while the remaining pumpkins wondered about their fate. Why were they still in the patch? And who was telling the truth? The farmer still came out to the garden and checked on them like he always had. Autumn Gold, Baby Boo, Happy Face, and Trick or Treat formed a tight bond, talking well into the night, supporting one another, and uplifting each other’s spirits.  If the farmer was still protecting them from harm, maybe it was to keep them.  The group ignored Jack, who waited on their fate in silence. Halloween was yet to come.

One crisp morning, the farmer and his wife came out to the garden.

“This one here’s for carving,” the farmer said, pointing to Happy Face.

“That little white one can sit next to him on the porch tonight,” the farmer said, motioning to Baby Boo.  The farmer took out his sharp knife and came toward the two pumpkins.

“No, no, please don’t!” screamed Happy Face.

“No, not me, not me,” cried Baby Boo, “I’m too little.”

Jack, Autumn Gold, and Trick or Treat watched in horror as the farmer and his wife cut the two pumpkins off their vine and carried them into the house. The three pumpkins remaining in the patch listened as Happy Face begged, pleaded, and wailed until, some minutes later, he fell silent.

They could still hear Baby Boo sobbing, repeating in his tiny voice, “No, no, no. Why did you do it, why? He was my friend. Why were you so mean?”

Jack cried right along with Baby Boo.  He no longer wanted to be the farmer’s darling.  He wanted his friends back.  He wanted summer again.  Even the stark cold of winter was better than this.

The screen door squeaked as the farmer’s wife came out of the house with a knife in one hand and a large metal bowl in the other. She walked slowly toward the pumpkin patch.  Her hair hung loose from the scarf on her head and gray strands covered her face.  She blew them away from her narrowed eyes. Her face was smeared with pumpkin juice. Her hands and dress were stained with pulp, seeds, and what could only be the entrails of Happy Face. She set down the bowl and unchained the gate. The garden held its breath.

Jack and the others tried to glance into the bowl. They couldn’t see over the rim.  The farmer’s wife picked up the bowl and stepped into the garden. She walked over to the compost pile and emptied parts and pieces of Happy Face into the rotting leaves, and egg shells, and peelings.  All that was left of their friend were some seeds, a few jagged chunks of flesh and stringy innards. They felt their own insides turn and tangle. Their vines constricted and they felt dizzy.  All three shivered, waiting as the woman slowly turned toward them.  She walked to Autumn Gold and bent over.

Autumn Gold screamed in terror.  She wailed and yelled, and never stopped screaming until she, too, was silenced once inside the house. An hour later, Jack and Trick or Treat smelled cooked pumpkin flesh as it simmered on the stove then baked in the oven.

Neither of the two pumpkins said anything.  There were no more stories to tell.  They each awaited their fate.

Late that night, Jack heard the rumble of a car on the street.  The moon was high and the hour was close to midnight. The car stopped in front of the farmer’s house. Then Jack heard young voices—teenagers.

“There’s two pumpkins on the porch right there,” a voice said.

“Yeah, I’ll keep watch, you go grab ‘em,” another said.

“Not me, Earl. You go do it,” the first one said.

“Ya’ll ain’t got no guts,” another voice said. “Give ol’ Earl a job, and it gets done,” it said.

Jack listened to someone grunt and pick up what was left of Happy Face and all of Baby Boo.

Baby Boo was crying and hollering again, “No, no, no, please don’t do it.  Don’t throw me. Noooo!”
Baby Boo’s voice arced through the air and then Jack heard two distinct smacks as pumpkins hit pavement.  The voices laughed. Car doors slammed and a vehicle roared off.  Jack heard the thump of pumpkin rind hit the curb and land with a crunch in the ditch. He imagined the tires mashing parts and scattering bits of his friends.

The rest of Jack’s night stretched long and dark.

The farmer wasn’t finished. The next morning he and his wife came to the garden.  They sliced through Trick or Treat’s vine and lifted him into the wheelbarrow. Then they came over to Jack.

“Gosh,” the farmer said, “I hate to harvest him.  He’s lasted two seasons and he’s still going strong.  No way he’ll last through winter this year.  He’s too big and his vine’s too brittle.  We’ll collect his seeds, though.  You’re one hearty pumpkin, Jack old boy. I wish you could have won that blue ribbon. You deserve it for all you’ve been through.”

With that, the farmer took out his knife and sliced through Jack’s vine, leaving a stem bleeding a trickle of sap.

The farmer and his wife hefted Jack into the wheelbarrow and the two of them wrestled him into the house and onto the kitchen table. The farmer’s wife brought Trick or Treat in a few minutes later and laid him beside Jack.

Trick or Treat was quiet, but Jack could sense his fear as they sat on the table.

Jack wasn’t frightened anymore. He knew his fate and rested.  His friends had suffered and it wasn’t fair to their memory for Jack to worry over his own life.

Jack looked around.  He’d always wondered what the inside of the house was like. The temperature was warm, like summer, but Jack felt a chill. He recognized some of the odors that wafted out to the garden. The smells were stronger here—no vegetables that he could discern, but definitely cantaloupe and egg, and maybe a trace of pig. Mid-day and night time smells were different, each with their own aroma.  Jack recognized a hint of Autumn Gold lingering in the air.

“Did you see how good the pie turned out?”  The woman asked the farmer, holding up a dark, orange disk. She brought it over and placed it close to Jack.

“Yep, looks good,” the farmer said, “believe I’ll try me a slice after I get the seeds out of these two.”

“I know why you want Jack’s seeds,” said the wife, “but why the other one?”

“That’s full of seed passed down from my Granddaddy’s pumpkin.  I’m choosing this tall one to carry on the family tradition.”
The farmer had the knife in his hand, running it over a gray stone. Every so often, he would stop and run his thumb over the blade. Then he’d go back to scratching the knife against the stone.  Jack watched, fascinated by the sound and movement, wondering how the blade would feel, slicing into his rind.

Trick or Treat finally spoke up.  “Jack?”

“Yeah?” Jack said.

“I’m really sorry I doubted you—and turned the others against you.”

“It’s OK,” Jack said. “I’m glad you gave them some hope.  It’s more than I did.  I’ll never forgive myself for that.”

“Hey, you were just trying to be truthful. I was the one who lied to them,” said Trick or Treat.

“If I had it to do over again, I’d have lied, too. Besides, you didn’t know any better,” said Jack.

“Yes I did,” Trick or Treat said. “I knew you were telling the truth, but I wanted to tell stories just like you.  I want you to know, it has been a real privilege knowing you, Jack.”

“You too, Trick or Treat.  Maybe our vines will meet up in the garden next season and get to know each other. That would be nice.”

“Yeah, it would,” Trick or Treat said.

The farmer laid down the knife and reached into a bowl.

“These toasted pumpkin seeds are right good,” he said, tossing back a handful.

Suddenly, the farmer sputtered, turned red in the face, and clenched his neck. His arm swept across the table in front of Jack, knocking the bowl of seeds and the pie onto the floor with a clatter.  He stamped his feet and looked toward his wife. The farmer was turning purple and his eyes rolled back in his head.

The woman came running across the room, but when she reached the farmer, she slipped on the pie and seeds.  Her feet shot out from under her and with her mouth opened wide, she let out a screech.  Her hands grasped, but found nothing to hold.  Her head came down hard on the corner of the table, and she crumpled to the floor.

The farmer began to topple backwards into the glass cabinet against the wall.  He crashed, breaking the glass, splintering the shelves, and landed on the floor with dishes and cabinetry piling on top.
Jack and Trick or Treat sat on the table surveying the mayhem. They waited for the farmer and his wife to get up.  They did not.  The two pumpkins waited, and waited, and waited. Still, the couple never recovered. Their son walked into the house later that night and found the two people deceased.  Police and rescue people arrived, loaded the farmer and his wife onto gurneys, then drove them away in wagons with sirens. A man in uniform said the farmer and his wife were dead.  Jack and his friend continued to sit on the table, waiting.

“Hey Jack, what do you make of this?” asked Trick or Treat.

“I guess Halloween is over,” said Jack.

“What holiday do we celebrate next?”

“Thanksgiving, Trick or Treat. Let me tell you about Thanksgiving—” Jack began.

Outside, the garden sighed and began a winter’s sleep.

Fly Fishing

October 10, 2011

 

My grandfather used to fly fish on the Jackson River. Uncle Wallace would call on a Thursday evening and invite him down to the cabin on the river for the weekend. Grandpa jumped at the opportunity. It was his excuse to get away from Grandma’s list of chores. Most of the time, he carried her with him for the trip though. She and Aunt Ellen stayed in the cabin, waking early to cook ham with red-eye gravy and buttermilk biscuits for breakfast. Lunch was a cold plate of thick club sandwiches and homemade potato salad. The two sisters vied for attention with a feast for Saturday supper. They compared recipes and attempted to out-do each other cooking and baking the entire visit. The men never ate so good.

Grandpa wore the pair of hip waders that hung from a wooden rack he built in his shop. They were tall green rubber boots that squeaked when he stepped on wet rocks.  I can see him now, in the river, water swirling around his knees, a brown cotton vest over his flannel shirt, a railroad cap covering his bald head.  The flies he so carefully tied using feathers and string, stuck tight in the lamb’s wool on the front of his vest, an angler artist’s collage.  One hand held the handle of the long bamboo fly rod, the other held the line. He’d draw back and cast, draw back and cast. The tiny fly barely touching down before it took flight again.  Trout seemed to fight over which one would attack the little camouflaged hooks.  The men never wanted for a catch.

The fish fry was Sunday night.  Grandpa and Uncle Wallace stood outside at the cleaning station, gutting, scaling and de-heading the trout. They discussed the bend in the river, and hiding places where rainbow and brook trout laid low.  The ones the fishermen tempted out from under rocks and falls of water landed, clean and shiny, into a bucket of cold water.  Grandpa presented them to Grandma on the back porch. She and Aunt Ellen rolled the trout in cracker meal and fried them in big iron skillets.

We sat around the old pine farm table at the camp, passing the platter of fried fish, the bowl of homemade cole slaw, and the pan of cornbread cut into buttery gold triangles. The men compared this trip to the last one and argued about who caught the biggest or fought the hardest to land a catch.  

No fish ever tasted any better.

Searching for Savings

October 1, 2011

We’re on a race. It’s crunch time. The sale ends today and three of us are a few coupons short for the big deal at Harris Teeter. Spaghetti sauce is on sale, buy two, get three free. With the manufacturer’s coupon, we can save $2.53 on each jar. That’s a ninety two percent savings.

The craze has hit our community. It seems coupon clipping is no longer a hobby or drudgery, it’s a necessity. The downturn in our economy calls for measures, and a way of life embraced by my grandparents, frugality, saving, recycling, reusing, cutting back, cutting coupons.

Newspaper bin at the recycle center, here I come.

I remember when I was younger, shaking my head at the stacks of plastic margarine containers washed clean and saved in the cabinet under grandma’s sink. She and grandpa stacked newspapers in the smokehouse to have on hand to start fires in the woodstove to keep the house warm. Grandma canned rows and rows of vegetables in glass Mason jars to have on hand “just in case.” All that seemed unnecessary to me. My grandparents weren’t poor. They didn’t need to do that stuff. Who in her right mind washed plastic utensils after a cookout? Who stood at the checkout line, examining a receipt for mistakes leading to the savings of a nickel? Who sent shoes to the shop to be repaired?

I’m beginning to understand the prudence of my grandparents. I didn’t live through a depression. They did. Every cent they spent had to account for something. Reuse and recycle was not a trendy fashion, it was necessary. Hand-me-down clothing may have been disliked by the child receiving it, but as long as a garment still held together by its stitches, that was one less thing to have to buy. Eating out at a restaurant was a luxury reserved for birthdays or anniversaries. Christmas for children meant a shoebox filled with fruit, candy, nuts and a small toy. That was an extravagance.

Grandpa grew an acre sized garden every year, even after the children were grown and all he and my grandma needed were a handful of tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers to get them through the summer. The garden didn’t feed just the two of them, it continued to feed their children and grandchildren, the neighbors, and friends.

Grandma clipped coupons from the Sunday newspaper, and on Monday, she sent Grandpa to the grocery store with the little paper squares of savings and her list. “Don’t you dare get anything that’s not on that list. You hear me?” she’d call as he walked to the truck.

~~

My friend Lisa and I hang over the edge of the big green newspaper dumpster at the recycling center. We’ve brought some milk crates to stand on because the dumpster doors are a good five feet off the ground. I’m taller than she is, so we’ve positioned her where the mound of newspaper is higher.

“Here’s one!” she calls to me, as excited as a child who finds the coveted golden Easter Egg.

I’m still searching.  I reach under a stack of sports magazines and pull out a Sunday supplement. I rifle through the inserts only to be disappointed. Whoever received this paper was a coupon clipper too. They’ve left the diaper coupons which I don’t need anymore, and the dog food ones. We have a cat.

 I keep looking, pushing the weekly papers aside, hunting for that fat Sunday paper or the glossy insides that house the eight by ten inch coupon booklets.  The one I want has apples on the cover. That’s the one with the spaghetti sauce coupon. Seventy-five cents, doubled, gives me a dollar and a half off the sale price of two, plus I get three free. I can use a coupon even for the free ones. The thought of those twenty-six cent jars have me sweating, reaching, digging, pulling, mumbling curses under my breath. There has to be one here somewhere.

I take my milk crate down to the next bin opening and search some more. I find other booklets of coupons and stack those beside my feet, but the one I’m searching for is illusive, hiding. I see a movement to my right.  Another coupon clipper, a red head in cowboy boots, has joined us.

“You here for the same reason as me?” she asks.

“Coupons?” I ask.

“Yep, glad to see I’m not the only one dumpster diving,” she answers as she flings a discarded phone book to the back of the container making a hollow echoing sound.

We dig around awhile longer in silence. Lisa has moved to the back of the newspaper dumpster where a new load has been dumped by patrons coming and going at the center.  She’s having all the luck. I hear little squeals of delight every time she puts her hands on the coveted prize.

Lisa stops. She has to get back to work.  I have the rest of the afternoon off.  I stay a while longer, finding a few more booklets, but none of the ones with the spaghetti sauce coupon in it.  As I drop down from my plastic perch, the red head says, “Hey there’s one more in here just out of my reach. I think you can probably get it. You’re tall.  If you reach it, it’s all yours.”

I go to her bin door and there halfway across the stacked pile of newspapers is my prize. I reach for it but I’m  six inches short. I lift onto my tip toes and bend over as far as I can, teeter-tottering on the edge of the bin opening. One wrong move and I’m swimming in newsprint.  I stretch just one more tiny bit, straining. Finally, with the fingertip of my longest finger, I drag the little booklet to me. I grab that sucker up into my fist. Dropping down to find my footing again, I let out a whoop and do a little dance of celebration on my milk crate. This one treasure makes the whole trip worthwhile. I kiss its apple adorned cover and hold the booklet to my chest, smiling.

I wipe the sweat off my face, gather my coupons and milk crate and head to the car. I have some shopping to do, but first, I have to go to my parent’s house. They dug sweet potatoes  yesterday and called me to come by and pick some up.

Family tradition lives on it seems. Grandma and Grandpa would be proud.