It is Labor Day and as I start to work in the pumpkin field – old times come flooding back. These memories speak of times when all the acreage across the road was full of the bright orange orbs and working out in the slight change of season was a welcome event. This was before parenthood and woodchucks found my husband and me I can’t remember when we decided to not sell pumpkins anymore. It could have been when the huge Amish family moved in six miles down the road and put in a crop. And with their low overhead and penchant for incredibly hard work, it was an easy decision to make. By then though, our place was known as the pumpkin house – even today I am reminded of this when I give out my address “Oh, you live in the pumpkin house. We took a field trip to your pumpkin patch in 4th grade.” Even as I write this I am forced to smile. I’ve always loved pumpkins; bright orange orbs of pleated happiness. Planting, weeding, curing and harvesting have given me good foundation in teaching and parenting. I have learned that the huge, bright orange ball in the center of the field – the one that screams perfection causing me to run headlong to the field’s center is, more often than not, hiding something that could rot the entire endeavor if left unchecked. I know too not to ignore the ones that stay green longer than their neighbors – even those sprouting from the same hill. No two are alike – ever. I am smiling too at the memory of my son – a baby still, not quite a year bundled and propped up between two pumpkins about his size and weight as he sucks happily on a bottle. By his second year he is out in the field with us, his wagon wheels dragging the entangled vines that somehow do not trip him as he attempts to lift (always) the biggest pumpkin he could get his young arms around.
We used to take our bright orange product into town and Wegman’s supermarket that took everything we could get to them but we stopped after one year. An anti-capitalist move I suppose but nothing, nothing could be worth the smile on the face of the two-old girl working her little fingers around two smaller pumpkins. “If she can carry them she can have them –said her mother,” Or my seven-year-old son proudly sitting atop a pile of orange beauties he and his dad brought to the sorting area. It was easier to put our own signs up – one and two dollar piles – three- dollars for the giants. Many a weekend writing time was spent listening to the trill of the valley’s young forever in search of the perfect pumpkin. And perfection in pumpkins, as in children, is relative. Yes, there may be a few woodchuck bites but with a bit of artistic nurturing (carving?) these scars can harden into a creative scar tissue that in adulthood will be called wisdom. It has been almost 20 years since our last serious pumpkin crop and today the bright orange beauty screaming perfection from the center of the field does not seduce me. History tells a different truth. And by the time I’ve moved to the center, cutting and setting encouraging pumpkins to the side, I can see the gaping hole in what had, earlier, shrieked for my attention.
Our sales policy too has changed; we will not be putting out the old coffee cans suggesting a dependence on the honor of strangers. In fact that last year we sold pumpkins was the first year we had to use a locked box – anchored to a table. Up to that point it had been eight years of honest human interaction. Did everyone always pay? No. But I still have the notes from those of reduced circumstances conferring blessings and good karma upon us and our household for providing pumpkins. One event that stands out occurred on a Friday evening just before Halloween – a young father knocked on our front door wanting to know if we had any pumpkins left. He had been driving by our house all week, to and from work, hoping there would pumpkins left on this, his payday. That year we sold out early – (even the blemished ones) and my heart sank when I looked at the empty side lawn and the thought of his sad six-year-old at home just waiting for a pumpkin to carve. I left the young father at the door to collect two pumpkins from our personal carving stash on the back deck. I handed him the two pumpkins and refused his money. This much happiness should not be for sale.
So, I anticipate another four to six weeks of pumpkin moving – this activity will certainly offset the zumba lessons I had promised to attend. In the past, moving, and handling pumpkins, I have on average lifted about 1000 to 1500 pounds in a good crop year. This season, maybe I’ll average a third of that – the labor of the woodchucks seems to have blessed me so.
~ I wonder what my son will think
When he is old and gray
Will he remember fiends from night
Or the sunshine from his days
~ I did what every parent wants
To raise strong and healthy kids
I am so afraid my labor’s lost
When I see him on the skids
~ Silly now, or so it seems
That imaginary age
When child puts away childish things
To turn the adult-like page
~ But there are days I get a peek
And see the son I wrought
He takes this life as serious lesson
That magically can be taught
~ Now most days I get a peek
Of the smile I used to coax
I know there’s sunshine in his heart
As it issues from his throat
~ It remains a joy to relax and bask
In these times I want to hold
But I should know as well as another
Nothing stays that’s gold
~ So I wonder what he will think
When I am old and gray
Will he remember terrorist nights
Or his sunny fields of play
~ I wonder too if he will see
The chimera, remora-like pain
Riding his parents’ loving hearts
In that symbiotic train
I don’t know what the death of a child means – its purpose really – nor am I ready to lay the cause for such pain and misery at the feet of some ostensibly benevolent entity.
Two former colleagues will be burying their son today. Their son: my son’s lacrosse goalie, two years younger. This is tragedy writ large across the small town landscape of the human heart. A tragedy that speaks to the lie that the cities are where it’s at. Maybe when I figure out the IT of everything I will be better able to make a distinction between the pain wrought by a life – and a death.
What I do know is that becoming a parent can be the most joyful experience two willing people can embark upon together – the endless dreams founded on faith in love and the innocent sounds of new names – mommy and daddy. It must be what an addiction is like; looking into the eyes of your child and succumbing to the bone-melting moment when you realize that there is nothing, no one in the world you could love more. It is the moment you watch your toddler waltz around the lawn in a spring rain babbling the language of sheer happiness, arms spread wide, head held high as if sipping from some celestial chalice of innocence, that you know you would lay down your own life for this moment to continue. Children, loved, cherished – as it should be – infused into your veins every morning, every handhold, every neck hug, every embrace of that small sturdy body that holds the contents of your elixir, the potion you need to survive. Liquefied, cooked love – injected in the open for all to see – the tracks of which you are proud to expose. Children can make us whole.
As children can make us whole so too can they lay us low. There is emotion that resides in the cracked plaster and glass of all adolescent door slams – an emotion whose power, we
forget, is as strong an elixir for the adolescent as our fresh-parent love was for us. But it is the road out of the nest, to selfhood that we keep our eyes upon – beyond adolescence – when the parent-child relation ship is supposed to right itself – the waters begin to calm, the phone conversations end in “I love you(s)” – both ways. But before the road untraveled, we believe we are cursed; what did we do wrong? Worry – the congenital parental condition beginning, not with ours but with our child’s birth. Even as we wrangle with adolescence we begin to paint pictures of that road out of the nest, putting our dream-child squarely upon it, smiling and ecstatically babbling that sonorous, personal language of sheer happiness – it is this emotional chimera that saves us when all hell breaks loose. It is what keeps us on the edge of the grave looking in even as our flesh and blood is lowered into the earth – buried.
I realize my tears are useless in changing the scenario. They will not revive the loved ones of the T’s, A’s and the F’s. – the first initials of those friends and colleagues who have all buried their young.
To be a parent is to expect to bring that child to a healthy adulthood – it is what you deserve for all the love and parent-hours spent keeping that child alive and well. What these parents get for all their love is not what they deserve. There is no crime that warrants such catastrophe.
And so I wonder what it all means? I think of my own son, the vessel that walks the earth holding my heart and dreams – for him. And now my frustration with him, for his comparatively minor infraction of the adult responsibility code, pales with the knowledge that this frustration could be easily trumped – any day, any time…
It will be a year in a week
That I watched my
March carrying a
Under the Naval Banner
The long distance between him
And home was filled with all the jewels
Of parenthood – the gems
We keep heart-close
For sturdier times
When the lens
Of hindsight is
Rosier with humor