COUNTY AGENT GUY
Halloween is a weird holiday. All year long, we drill into our kids’ heads that they should never take candy from strangers.
Yet on Halloween we tell them that it’s OK to take candy from all manner of strangers, even those who are dressed strangely.
All year long, we teach our children that they must work for their rewards.
But on Halloween we tell the kiddies that the quickest way to fill their bags with sugary loot is to threaten others with the phrase “trick or treat.”
I think the worst part of Halloween is the wanton slaughter of pumpkins. I began raising pumpkins when I was about 6 years old. I don’t know why I like pumpkins.
Maybe it’s because their vines sprawl out in unpredictable directions, curling around here, twisting over there. Pumpkin vines are the nose hairs of the vegetable world.
Being a farm kid, I knew all about plant husbandry . I would select the largest pumpkin to supply the next year’s seed. After letting my younger siblings butcher the hapless spheroid and carve its flesh into a gruesome jack-o-lantern, I would extract the seeds from its slimy entrails.
The seeds were dried on a sheet of newspaper, then stored in a mason jar.
Once my biggest pumpkin had fulfilled it duty as a Halloween decoration, I would insist that Mom turn its remains into pie filling.
The larger pumpkin, the tougher its structure, so eating pie made from my pumpkins was like chewing nutmeg-flavored packing string.
Within a few years my pumpkin husbandry had produced fruits that were nearly half a hundredweight.
This was a long way from my goal of half a ton, but I reckoned that things were headed in the right direction and that I had the luxury of time. I calculated that within a few short decades, I would have the perfect pumpkin.
But somewhere along the line, some peculiar genetics stole into my pumpkin family.
My pumpkins’ sunny orange hue gradually became a rosy pink and their navels went from being an “innie” to an “outie.”
The fruits were no longer round and took on a shape that was reminiscent of a seal sunning itself on a beach.
In essence, my pumpkins looked like 50-pound bosoms.
I knew what had happened. One night, a traveling sales squash had snuck into my pumpkin patch and left behind a genetic surprise that wouldn’t come to light until the following generation.
But I was committed to the bloodline and kept it going despite the strong evidence of cucurbit chicanery.
I tried to peddle pumpkins to my school chums. I only sold one, netting 50 cents for a summertime of work and worry. Mine was a poor business model.
When I joined 4-H, the first project I displayed for Achievement Days was one of my prized pumpkins. It was my biggest one yet: sixty pounds, salmon-colored, blob-shaped and with a pinky-sized protrusion on the blossom end.
The judge disagreed sharply with the prize part, awarding my pumpkin a white ribbon.
It wouldn’t have cost him anything to bump me up to a red ribbon, which could at least have been interpreted as “nice try.”
But smashing my pumpkin hopes with a white ribbon evidently wasn’t enough.
In addition to the bottom ranking, the judge scrawled across my Achievement Days entry tag, “pumpkin or squash?”
The knife twisted and a fistful of salt was rubbed in. Disheartened, I soon quit raising pumpkins and saving their seeds.
When our two sons were little, I purchased new seed and showed our boys the joys of pumpkin parenting. After they outgrew trick-or-treating, there no longer seemed to be a point and raising pumpkins became passe.
Kids nowadays have easy access to an unlimited supply of pumpkins, be it at their local pick-your-own pumpkin factory or in superstores that ship in megatons of pumpkins via oceangoing freighters.
Nobody makes pumpkin pie from scratch anymore, especially not from recycled jack-o-lanterns.
But the pumpkin bug is irresistible. I plant a patch each May although I no longer save seeds from year to year.
I purchase new stock every spring with “the weirder the better” being my only guideline.
My business model is worse than ever because we give away all our pumpkins and gourds to friends and family.
But it’s worth it when I see the expressions on their faces and hear them ask, “What is that? A pumpkin or a squash?”
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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