My Neighborhood Is Obsessed with Pumpkins, and the Great Pumpkin’s Delighted

For reasons unknown, a fad in my neighborhood during fall and culminating on Halloween is pumpkins. Multiple pumpkins. Large, small, lumpy, smooth, often orange, punctuated with white, green, sage, multi-colored. On my walks I started counting numbers of pumpkins on porches. Very few have only one (I myself have two), and the winner so far is 16.

I don’t know why. Granted I’m in a family-heavy neighborhood where children are cherished and indulged as if they were tiny royals. Also an area with no poverty, whose residents can choose to dispose of their disposable income as they wish. I shouldn’t quibble, indeed, I’m not even sure what “quibbling” is, because I adore seeing the variety and the panache with which the home owners place their harvest bounty. Some stack several orbs on top of one another, some group colors and textures with care. Many set off large pumpkins with several miniature ones. Others combine real produce with the man-made variety. One home with front stairs positioned a pumpkin at the end of each step all the way up to the top. Another, with a short brick retaining wall, marched the produce all along the top, as if presenting the front entry to the world.

Squirrels treat outdoor decorative pumpkins as their personal grocery store. In my old neighborhood, which seemed to have ten squirrels for every resident, a pumpkin was fortunate if it survived overnight on the porch without a gnaw. My new neighborhood has fewer critters. Still last year only a few days passed before the golden fruit (yes, pumpkins are technically fruit) was attacked.

I’ve collected suggestions on squirrel repellents. The silliest one was to place several pumpkins together, as if propitiating the squirrel god by providing one sacrificial sphere. This only drives the critters into an eating frenzy. The defense that seems to succeed is to combine two techniques. I sprayed the pumpkins with hairspray, then sprinkled them with liberal doses of cayenne pepper.

I wonder if the proliferation of decorative pumpkins is another indication of our surfeit of consumerism. Surely no one other than pie makers NEEDS sixteen pumpkins. Still this is one glut I don’t object to. I tell myself we’re helping out the pumpkin farmers as well as delighting children and passersby, then give myself permission to simply enjoy the symbol of harvest bounty. Maybe I’ll dig out the seeds to roast and nibble on. That will justify my permissive attitude.

 

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TREATS OR TRICKS? SCARY HALLOWEEN-TYPE ASSUMPTIONS

There was a time after my kids reached legal adulthood when I greeted Halloween with a sigh of relief. No longer did I need to hustle creative juices, time, and money to try to outdo other moms and grandmas in costuming little ones, but also I was relieved from guard duty over teen hijinks like t.p.ing neighbors’ houses or underage drinking. In those days, my eyes used to achieve maximum blurriness when I paced the floor and watched the clock in trepidation.

But after that early epoch, as I attempted to sink into a cathartic calm of middle age, an adventurous friend appeared on my doorstep one October 31. I forget how old she and I were, but I’m sure in the range of 40. Neither of us had been invited to an adult Halloween party, the type featuring hard liquor and harder attempts by married folks to connect with a “swinging” temporary partner. She, however, was rarin’ to go out on monkey business.

Her idea—cobble together a costume out of whatever we could lay our hands on and try to pass ourselves off as children to our friends and neighbors. What astonishment we’d create when we revealed ourselves.

Since we both are short, barely breaking five feet, we weren’t much bigger than the early teen rabble-rousers we saw coming to the door during the evening’s later hours. She’d supplied herself with charcoal and eyeshadow so we could disguise our faces as well as dressing herself in a wig, and shabby old clothes she’d retrieved from discards in the closet. I raided my husband’s stock of outdated outfits, we smudged coloring on our jaws like five o’clock shadow and around our eyes like weary laborers, and off we went.

In front of the stop, we paused to plot. We agreed to slump and hunch a bit and pull our hats down. We figured we resembled 13-year-old boys dressed as bums. I still doubted we’d fool anyone, but I beat on the door, mumbled “Trick or treat,” and held out a bag. She did the same, but she disguised her voice better than I.

Our friend, who was also a neighbor and whom we saw almost every day, didn’t bat an eye. She hauled out the candy, loaded our bags (it was late in the evening, so she had a lot to get rid of), chatted a bit about Halloween mischief, and escorted us to the exit. That’s when we revealed our true persona. We’d buffaloed her completely.Halloween 

And so it went at each of the half-dozen or so homes we visited. We hoodwinked every single person, and we gathered a load of sweets that I did not share with my family later. I’d worked too hard for my booty.

In addition to being a fun anecdote for my personal history, our little adventure convinced me that people see what they want to see, not what’s really there. I don’t think our costumes and makeup were particularly artistic, but not a soul really looked at US.

Since that time I’m never surprised if a homeowner shoots his own child during the night, thinking he’s battling a thief; or if a policeman guns down a dark fuzzy character figuring he’s stopping a murderer; or if a hit-and-run driver flees the scene assuming he’s collided with a squirrel or cardboard box.

In these days of “rush-to-judgment,” whether that’s the perpetrator responsible for the violence or the ever-disapproving public judging it, it’s waaaay too easy to make accusations or even take action based on unfounded assumptions. Let’s think a little before we do so. A teacher once told me, “Never assume, it makes an ass of u and me.” Something to consider.