It started more than a decade ago, but I don’t know exactly when. I do know that pumpkin vines fill the background of many back-to-school photos taken when my kids were still the age we took those. In some, the vines totally cover the pavement in the backyard. Other years there is only a straggly stem in the frame. One year there were none at all.
I also can’t quite remember how it started. But I love to decorate for fall. I drag out storage containers full of long-accumulated decor each September, on a date determined by the chill in the air, but never before September 15.
Those bins are filled with mostly store-bought stuff, but there are a few handmade ones. I have a construction paper spider that one of the kids made in school. Her teacher helped her trace her little hands and cut them out. The tracings were overlapped, palms in, fingers out, and glued together. Affixed with googly eyes, and attached to splintery black yarn, I hang it up every Halloween. Maybe the year the spider was cut was the same year those hands helped me with the first pumpkin patch smash? Maybe not.
All I know was that one year, some day after Thanksgiving but before December 1, we unintentionally planted our first gourds. Somehow, we got the idea that our decaying Jack O’ Lanterns and mini pumpkins should be tossed from some distance onto a small, three by six foot-ish patch of grass, surrounded by fence and pavement. The first year, we played a variation of bowling, rolling pumpkins into each other. But we just launched the rotted ones and watched in squirmy delight as they splatted. As the seeds scattered unpredictably, the kids’ reactions varied from screeching to clapping.
This parent-sanctioned silliness was taken more seriously each year. As the kids got older, their technique got more creative. Sometimes they feigned they were playing catch with them, but they were really just throwing them at each other. One year, my oldest ran up the stairs with a softening sugar pumpkin, and we tossed it from a window, enhancing the bounce and spatter of the pavement pumpkin puree.
The days following our moldy gourd purge brought happiness to the neighborhood birds, squirrels and chipmunks, who feasted on our folly, further spreading the seeds. The pile of Halloween’s leftovers would eventually get covered by snow.
Once spring would come, we’d watch the grass green up and make sure not to mow any fledgling plants. We’d mark them with sticks. And then we’d wait to see what grew. By mid-July the vines would twist into the most unexpected directions, way off the grassy area in no predictable way, creating an obstacle course of vines and tendrils we’d jump across. After a particularly windy storm, they’d sometimes roll into each other and tangle so tightly that they’d look braided. There was no order to any of it. They wildly sprawled, sometimes feet in a day, bees buzzing, diving into the huge blooms.
When finally some of those flowers became a shape, usually in early August, we’d wait for a tinge of color. Then we’d know whether we were going to get a pumpkin, a warty goose-necked gourd, or maybe a pointy barrelly one. Just when we’d think they’d all be yellow hourglass shapes, we’d find a bunch of orange ones in the overgrown grass that we hadn’t mowed lest we sever the vines.
Today, as the chill set in, I went to assess this year’s yield. For the last few years, the seeds have cultivated themselves after I peacefully piled the leftover gourds, solo. It has been several seasons since a child heaved one at the other or was involved in any way. I took pictures of my mostly orange pile and texted the crop photo to the former flingers. I wanted the kids to see what we got this year. What we started together, I continue alone. Sometimes I feel like they, too, grew feet in just a day.