The great pumpkin redemption
by Paige Parker
Last year I experienced the embarrassment of a holiday excursion gone awry.
We’d invited the grandparents for a day at a pumpkin patch. We drove out to the country for what I hoped would be a lovely day of picking pumpkins and taking beautifully lit autumn-leaves-falling photos of the kids.
Instead, we found the farm stand about to close for the season. A surly clerk told us to shove off, the pumpkins had all sold. I asked for directions to the nearest patch, and she gestured to the south to where she said she thought she’d seen some pumpkins in a field.
We drove in the direction she’d waved, crossed a river, turned a corner … and realized we were in a junkyard, the hulking carcasses of broken boats and ancient farm equipment all around us, and that up ahead lay a ramshackle double wide trailer with a truckload of grocery store pumpkins dumped in the yard.
Moreover, it started to rain, hard, when we pulled up. We collected our trailer park pumpkin with great haste, just as Parker launched into what still rates as one of his Top 5 fits. So much for those beautifully lit photos.
I’ve wanted a do-over ever since.
Since becoming a mom, I’ve wondered if I can pull off the holidays. They do not come naturally.
That junkyard pumpkin patch reminded me of the house I grew up in, during the years when my family careened from one crisis to another and piles of tires and derelict cars decorated our lawn. I know our family had some happy holidays, but in the ones freshest in my memory we are broke and my parents are overworked and exhausted. They always rallied, but holidays were thrown-together affairs, and my parents seemed relieved to see them pass. It stuck with me, this empty feeling of a celebration not fully celebrated.
So how to celebrate in a way that creates good memories for my children?
I don’t want to throw cash at my fear. Heaps of gifts are a superficial solution. And crafts are out of the question, for safety reasons. Give me a hot glue gun and a bucket of beads, and I will end up in the emergency room with second degree burns, sheepishly explaining why I have baubles in my belly button. I will be the first mother ever hospitalized due to an accidental vajazzle.
Magnifying my inadequacy, we moved 18 months ago, and now we live across the street from the Holiday House.
Dec. 1 comes, and Holiday Dad is out there stringing tasteful lights and hanging a wreath. Valentine’s Day rolls around, and Holiday Mom plants the tissue paper hearts in the window. St. Patrick’s Day, they’re featuring shamrocks. Easter, cute little bunnies. You get the picture.
A couple of weeks ago, they put up the Halloween decorations. Right now, I’m looking out my bedroom window my neighbor’s house, tricked out with two ghosts, a skeleton and a jack o’ lantern. We can not manage to mow our lawn regularly. Our downstairs toilet is so dirty that sometimes, it’s black. I understand now why my parents did not relish the holidays. They can be just another item on the endless to-do list.
“Why don’t we decorate our house at Halloween?” Parker asked the other day.
“Because it doesn’t feed Mom’s soul,” would have been an honest answer.
“I’d rather read a magazine,” would have been another.
I could have said, “Because I’m a damn good baker,” which used to be true, though since I went back to work the cookies are coming out of a box. I came up with something lame about not having enough time, when, in fact, I probably do have plenty of time to make those stupid lollipop ghosts. I just choose not to.
While our barren decor suggests otherwise, I do desperately want our family to establish holiday traditions.
So this October, I did my research, and found Lone Pine Farms in Junction City offered hayrides, a “Cow Train Trail Ride” for the kids, a corn maze, and pumpkins galore. Commercial? Yes. Foolproof? You bet your sweet ass. Granny made the trip again, understanding my fierce need for redemption on the heels of the Great Pumpkin Fuckup.
And Sunday, it all came together. We arrived at Lone Pine Farms along with most of the other parents in the Eugene, Ore. metropolitan area. The air smelled like kettle corn and meat. The joint teemed with corn stalks. All the women seemed to be wearing shiny, $120 rain boots. Hayrides cost $3 a person. Feeding the goats cost a quarter for every handful of pellets. Maybe I would have to throw some cash at my fear.
I held our places in the hayride line while my husband and mother-in-law amused the kids. After a bouncy, diesel-scented ride around the farm, the green John Deere deposited us in a field seeded with pumpkins of all sizes, a field so tidy that the mud seemed to have been applied sparingly by an artist’s hand to complete the agrarian effect.
In the midst of all of this, I remembered how my dad carved the pumpkins for us every year, and how he salted and roasted the seeds for snacks. I remembered my mom, holding my hand while I trick-or-treated through the cold Montana Halloweens.
The pictures we captured of the kids scouring the field for their pumpkins look beautiful, and the moment itself felt even better — safe and warm and content. For the kids, I’m sure, but for me, too. I’m woman enough to admit that this holiday outing was for me. Maybe they all will be, in some way, until I get my fill.