While summer is my most favorite season, Halloween is my favorite holiday. With one night devoted entirely to cramming as much candy in your gob as possible, I can’t see how it’s not everyone’s favorite holiday. And while I’m not big on decorating for every occasion (or really decorating in general), the autumn season finds my house crammed with pumpkin-stenciled coffee mugs, large black cat statues, and of course the standard pumpkin on the porch for carving.
This year we grew a pumpkin of our own in our wee little backyard garden, which I’m very proud of. The cute little thing is probably only eight pounds (I’m comparing it to the weight of a newborn lamb for reference), and quite oblong in shape, but it’s homegrown, which gives it greater value to me than the market weight in cents per pound.
However, we are always on the lookout for the Great Pumpkin.
A few years ago, it was the day before Halloween and I was in a despondent mood; we still did not have a pumpkin. Of course, waiting till the last minute, the pickings were slim and I was very close to just buying a measly three-pounder at the grocery store, all lumpy and beaten up and sad-looking.
It was a standard slow late autumn day at work, and after two textbook castrations (a miniature horse and miniature donkey), I had some time (and some testicles) on my hands. Cruising around in my vet truck at lunch, I passed a local orchard advertising their pumpkin crop. I decided to stop, doubting my ability to find The Great Pumpkin, but willing to give it one last search.
I rummaged through the bins of pumpkins in my coveralls with my black muck boots still on and covered in mud. Most were too small, some too lop-sided, and others too light colored, or had broken stems or large gashes where they had been dropped or attacked by other pumpkins.
Approaching the last bin, I grew dejected, half-heartedly preparing to pick out the least ugly of the ugly pumpkins as a booby prize. Then suddenly, as I peered into the very last bin of pumpkins, there at the bottom was the most perfect, most round, most orange, most beautiful pumpkin I had ever seen.
Barely able to pull it out of the bin, I carted it proudly to the register where I learned it weighed 47 pounds. Twenty-one dollars later, I was heaving the gourd into my vet truck, wedging it between the edge of the passenger seat and the glove box. For the rest of the day it rolled around on the floor of the passenger side where it had shifted during the downhill drive away from the orchard, thudding against the door. I showed it to every single one of my clients I visited for the remainder of the day. I also sent a picture of it to my boss. And my husband. And my mom.
It was The Great Pumpkin of 2009 and I had saved Halloween.
Fast-forwarding to every Halloween since then, we’ve had one runner-up to The Great Pumpkin. Last autumn, on the way home from an event on the eastern shore of Maryland, we passed a roadside stand that displayed an enormous flatbed trailer filled with giant pumpkins. Incredulous at the sight, we did a U-turn and pulled in, only to behold a tantalizing collection of enormous pumpkins. There was no scale at this place, so we could only guess at the weights, but given the fact that the pumpkin could not fit in the trunk of our Toyota Corolla and took up half the entire back seat, leaving me and my dog Shadow squeezed together on the back passenger side hoping the car didn’t make a sudden left turn and leave us crushed to death underneath a giant pumpkin, we estimated it at over fifty pounds (comparing it to an average sized feed bag, naturally).
I, however, am a bit of a purist. If it didn’t come home in my vet truck, well, I’m not sure if it counts.
This year, our little pumpkin pales in size comparison, but I think it has heart. And I think our little patch has potential. Maybe next year, we’ll grow a sixty-pounder. I’ve got plenty of sources for fresh fertilizer, after all.
Dr. Anna O’Brien
Image: A pumpkin with heart, by Dr. O’Brien