The Perfect Halloween Pumpkin

When my friend Phyllis retired from a twenty-one year career in Financial Operations at the University of Michigan, she didn’t wonder for a second how she would spend her days. Her dreams of being a full-time grandmother would finally be fulfilled. That she would also have time to redecorate the house and knit to her heart’s content was wonderful, but the time she would spend making memories with her four year-old granddaughter, Alexandra, would be the most important.

Phyl’s husband Jack retired shortly after she did and, while that could have presented a territorial problem for some couples, these two struck a silent agreement to stick to their own areas of business—she to the house and he to the garden…most of the time…

“How the heck did these pumpkin plants get into my cucumber patch?” Jack, puzzled and perplexed, stared out the kitchen window at the little garden that bordered their backyard.

“I don’t know, dear.” Phyllis nearly slipped a stitch on the sweater she was knitting for Alexandra, remembering all too clearly how she’d dumped the mushy pulp and seeds of last year’s Jack-O-Lantern onto Jack’s compost pile instead of into the trash.

“You didn’t happen to plant some pumpkin seeds in my garden, did you?” he asked.

“Of course not.” Phyllis gave him a cool look. After all she hadn’t planted them, had she? “Anyway, what harm a could a few little pumpkin seeds do?”

“They’re strangling my cukes, that’s what,” Jack sputtered.

“Hmm…maybe we’ll have a Halloween pumpkin for Alexandra.” Phyllis smiled at the thought.

“And maybe my cukes are going to be the size of peanuts.” Jack stomped out the patio door, across the lawn, and back to his garden. “Men,” Phyllis muttered to herself.

“Women,” Jack grumbled as he tried to untangle his vine cluttered cucumber patch.

But when Alexandra tripped out to the garden the next day with Grandma and Grandpa and squealed with delight over the prospect of taking her very own home-grown pumpkin to the pre-school Halloween party, Phyllis and Jack called a truce. Both became determined to make her wish come true.

Jack cleared back his cukes so the pumpkin plants could spread. Phyllis bought some Miracle-Gro which Jack fed into the soil. And, Alexandra watched in wonder as the blossoms bloomed into beautiful bell-shaped flowers then turned into tiny green pumpkins. Each trip to the garden brought her closer to her dream. When she came to visit, the pumpkin patch was her first and most important stop.

However, as the Halloween party drew near, Phyllis became certain that none of the little green pumpkins would be ready. All the cucumber trimming and Miracle-Gro in the world wasn’t going to make these pumpkins ripen on time. So she came up with a plan.

“Let’s check the pumpkin patch,” Phyllis told Alexandra the following week. “By now, I’m sure we’ll find at least one pumpkin large enough for a Jack-O-Lantern.”

“I don’t know.” Jack shook his head doubtfully as Phyllis and Alexandra made their way, hand-in-hand, to the cucumber-turned-pumpkin patch. “Don’t get your hopes up too much.”

“Look, Grandma! Look, Grandpa!” Alexandra bent down to get a better look. There, under a large leaf, lay a perfectly beautiful bright orange pumpkin. “My very own pumpkin! And it’s perfect!”

“Uh huh. Perfect for a Jack-O-Lantern, and just in time for your Halloween party! Let’s take it into the kitchen, clean out the insides, and carve a funny face.”

Phyllis was grinning from ear to ear. Her plan had worked. It was amazing what a quick trip to the produce department at Kroger’s Grocery Store could provide.

Watching the two girls scamper back to the house, toting their newfound treasure, Jack just shook his head and smiled. He didn’t even bother to ask them what they were going to do with all the seeds. He was pretty sure he knew the answer to that anyway. There would be a bigger, better, and earlier pumpkin patch at Phyl and Jack’s place next year.

By Coralie Cederna Johnson and reprinted from The Detroit News, 1996.

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