Thursday, October 31, 2013


     This story was originally written in 1995 when my son, David was 13 and my daughter, Jennifer was 15. Ahhh...good times! Happy Halloween! :)   
     “If you can’t carry it, you can’t have it.” 
     This is a phrase that comes to me every year in the autumn.  My son, now thirteen, seems to think he is strong enough to carry the world.  But, let’s have a reality check. This is not the philosophical world we are speaking of here.  It’s much more serious. It’s pumpkins! 
     Ever since my daughter visited her first pumpkin patch with her kindergarten class, the phrase “If you can’t carry it, you can’t have it” has been the measure by which we pick our pumpkins.  Even though I was along that year for that all-important rite of childhood passage, many of the mothers were not. The kindergarten teachers were very wise. This system saved the teachers from lugging huge pumpkins around for their small charges. 
     Little did I know that because of that first trip, pumpkin picking would become an annual event.  We have visited many different patches over the years, changing locations as one, and then another, went out of business.  I guess small family patches just don’t make the money to justify replanting year after year.
     I still miss visiting one patch in particular. It was planted by an older gentleman and grew in a field down a back road on the way to the lake. He grew pumpkins, gourds, and Indian corn.  He sold what he could, because he really enjoyed the kids of all ages visiting his farm, and fed what he didn’t sell to his cows the rest of the year.  He judged a pumpkin’s price more by the smile it brought to a child’s face than the actual size.  One year we went to buy his pumpkins but noticed the big, round, orange sign wasn’t hung out by the road. When I pulled into the familiar roadway, his daughter met our car and informed us that no pumpkins had been planted that year.  Her father had grown ill and hadn’t been well enough to tend the fields.  She said her father was worried that the children he had sold pumpkins to for so long would be disappointed.   I was sad but I understood.  We thought it unfair that our tradition had been disturbed. I’m sure he thought it was unfair, too.
     This is the second year visiting our current patch.  It has a much more commercial atmosphere, but we still get to pick our own pumpkins right off the vines out in fields reached by jumping up on one of the several long, flat, hay covered trailers pulled by field tractor. Over the years we have learned the art of pumpkin picking.  One must carry a sharp knife to cut the vines and it helps to have good strong gloves because the pumpkin stems have tiny thorns. 
     We always buy at least five pumpkins.  One medium sized pumpkin goes on the mantle in the living room with pretty dried leaves and a horn of plenty filled with gourds and corn stalks and fall colored flowers. Another large specimen is to display on the porch, welcoming guests and family to the house. Two are chosen by the kids, with their own specifications, to carve and the last one I usually carry to my place of work to decorate my desk.  The debate over pumpkins, as I say, is serious.  The trip takes a minimum of three hours.  There is just so much to be considered. The right size and shape of each pumpkin, the right color and length of the still-attached, weathered vine and for the ones to be carved; there has to be a perfect “face” side. We choose and turn and lift and scrutinize and debate the pros and cons of many pumpkins before we settle on the ones to take home.
     Some people just go for the hayride and for other things sold at the fruit stand, bakery and ice cream parlor that are all part of the patch enterprise.  We are continually amazed with people who lack the ability to choose a perfect pumpkin.  Too many soft, bruised and deformed pumpkins are chosen, bought and carried home. Some are lazily and quickly picked from piles of pumpkins on the side of the road that lead to the main entrance. And at least once a year we see a small child struggling under the weight of his or her enormous choice; dropping it, and then crying. 
     My children, considering themselves pumpkin picking experts, just look at each other and shake their heads and repeat the time-tested piece of wisdom: “If you can’t carry it, you can’t have it.”

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ahhhh, Autumn

     I woke up this morning at 2:30 to a stillness. We sleep with the fan in our room going and most of our windows cracked open for the fresh air. It was warm. Odd. So I got up to use the bathroom and water the cat (he likes to drink from the tub faucet) before coming back to bed. I never look outside or turn a light on in fear that I might just wake up too much. So, I'm lying in bed, trying to get comfortable when all of a sudden, the room cools down, the curtains lift with a breeze. And then I hear it; the tentative little patter of misty raindrops. The proverbial "calm before the storm" had woken me up, and before I could really think on this, the raindrops came, faster and stronger. My first thought was "Oh, this is so nice; I'm glad I am awake to hear it!" My second thought was, "Dang! Why couldn't this be Saturday?" It would be so nice to be able to leisurely lay in bed on a Saturday morning and listen to the rain!
     We have had the first rain in a very long time. The temperature is going to be 62* today and I have my mantle decorated for Halloween and my pumpkins bought. You guessed it1 It's finally autumn! My favorite time of the year.
     Having been born a California girl one would think that I really don't notice, or am not affected by, the seasons. But when I was in 5th and 6th and 7th grades, we lived just south of Boston, Massachusetts on a Naval Air Station. We had finished a two year stint in Georgia, just northwest of Atlanta, and other than the summers being more humid than Southern California, the weather did not impress me much. The bugs were a different story...but that's for another blog.
     We moved to Massachusetts in the summer. Kind of muggy but not anything unusual. Then school started. Then fall came. Our first home in Massachusetts was the middle apartment in a three story building. There was one apartment just like ours on the top floor and one on the bottom floor. It looked like a huge 3 story Victorian house. In the dining room, on the side of the house, and in the living room, on the front of the house, there were floor-to-ceiling bay windows with window seats. Since the dining room was closest to the kitchen, and usually warmer than the rest of the house, I claimed that window seat as my own. There I watched the neighbor's yard and garden shift from summer to fall and later to winter.
     But it was the change from summer to fall that caught my attention the most. It seemed as if, overnight, the world had totally changed. The neighbor's rose bushes were pruned down to the bare stems, a bush of Chinese Lanterns turned bright orange, the large tree (I have no idea what type it was) that draped over their side yard and escaped their yard to cover our driveway had mutated from green bunches of nondescript foliage to branches of gold and orange and rusty colored leaves. I'm telling you: it all made an impression.
     The show lasted several weeks, changing daily, until it rained shortly before Thanksgiving. Then the leaves were just so many brown spots on the sidewalks and when they dried out, you could see people up and down the street raking them into large piles by the curb to burn, (oh, the days before environmental awareness!) giving off that slightly musty smell that wafted through the neighborhood.
     Even though we spent only three years in Massachusetts, those change of seasons have stayed with me. Since we are back in California, and have been here since 1967, (yeah, do the math...I'm that old) I have had to develop a keen sense to determine the change of seasons. Pumpkins everywhere is a sure sign. The temperatures dropping, so I have to dig out my winter coat (let me just say here that my California winter coat is about 1/2 the warmth needed on the East Coast) is another sure sign. Rain plays a big part in making the season what it should be and I have targeted the trees around in the neighborhoods that change colors. They are not as plentiful, but that only makes them shine in our otherwise ordinary landscape. And I am entranced every year anew.