The drone of the old school bus, as it lumbered round the corner on the dirt road below, was the signal for our dog to scamper down the path from the house. I followed behind, decked out in my “Farmer Candy” coveralls, kicking through the wet clumps of orange and yellow leaves beneath my feet. The air was clear blue and crisp, but the autumn sun felt warm on my face. The pungent smell of wood fires filled the air as tendrils of smoke curled upward from nearby neighboring chimneys.
He stood at attention, quivering with excitement, his red scarf tied roguishly round his neck as he waited for the double yellow doors to open. “Hey Oliver, remember me? Wow, you’re still alive,” the kids shrieked as they tumbled down the bus steps. His exuberant bark echoed through the valley as he enthusiastically greeted each one of them – dancing around their legs as they buried him with hugs and kisses. Then, with his tongue lolling from side to side and a grin on his face, he proudly led the way as the children exploded onto the field strewn with glorious, orange treasures.
It was October – a pinnacle time on our modest farm. We had become the Pumpkin Patch for the entire county, always planting enough so every child through the third grade could have one. While not exactly a moneymaker at fifty cents a pumpkin – and though it was a time of complete bedlam – I loved it.
As they stretched out in the dirt to eat their bag lunches, husband would press apples so everyone could experience the taste of fresh cider. Anything found on the ground was fair game. Dead, rotten vegetables became airborne missiles or were lugged back on the bus to take home as souvenirs.
The highlight was the tractor. Everyone got a turn. They’d sit on my lap and I’d lean back with my arms behind my head, point the beast in the direction of the open field, and let them have at it. Particularly appreciative of this freedom were the blind children from the developmentally-challenged class. They had the looks of superheroes as they gripped the wheel, driving in circles or going full throttle on the straight stretches.
As I watch my grandchildren prepare for Halloween tomorrow, I am flooded with memories from that time in my life. I can still smell the air and hear the jubilant laughter from hundreds of children. Pumpkin patches are an important part of growing up. They form a significant block in the fabrics of children’s lives. For a time, we contributed to that tapestry.
When husband and I went our separate ways, I experienced deep losses on many levels. That beautiful, crazy, pumpkin patch, which was never resurrected after that, was one of those loses. To those who continue to carry on this tradition…I salute you.