The pumpkins are here! Have you noticed? In grocery stores and on the covers of magazines, they're flaunting pumpkins and, in some cases, turkeys and snowmen, but let's not go there yet.
When I was a young mother, I planted a few dahlia tubers and a rose bush outside the back door of my home in Grants Pass, Ore. The Tropicana roses flourished until the first frost. The dahlias bloomed through fall. When my twin sons started first grade, I sent them off to school with bouquets for their teachers. Every place I've lived since, I've planted a Tropicana and some dahlias.
There used to be lots of apple orchards in the Rogue Valley. Many are gone and some are vineyards now. Every year at this time I bought boxes of apples at the orchard. Reds were for school lunches and greens were for my mom's apple cobbler recipe and deep-dish pies. Last Saturday, Rick and I bought 25 lbs. of McIntosh's at the farmers market and I piled them up on the kitchen counter with plans to can applesauce this weekend. The kitchen smells like apples now reminding me of pies that bubbled over in my ovens over the years and sack lunches packed with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, string cheese and crisp red apples.
Like most moms, I've created my share of must-have Halloween costumes (Superman, Darth Vader, the Incredible Hulk), and baked orange and black cupcakes for classroom parties. We carved pumpkins, of course, and lined the walkway with jack o'lanterns. When the boys were young I dashed out into the neighborhood with them on their quest for treats, and when they grew older we dressed up and greeted each princess, ghost and Friday the 13th character that rang our doorbell.
Dahlias, apples and pumpkins stir up memories of my sons: first days of school, football and soccer games, raking leaves, Halloween. But I'm sure it won't surprise you to find out that I had a life before children. One October day that stands out was on a weekend identical to this one when I was in college in San Francisco and my two best friends and I decided to visit the pumpkin patches at Half Moon Bay. Located 40 miles south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay is the self-proclaimed pumpkin capital of the west. We were sophomores in college and didn't own a car among us, so we did what our parents would have killed us for doing if they knew: we hitchhiked. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, but windy in the back of a pickup. We leaned against the cab of the truck and watched the pumpkin fields go by. When we got to Half Moon Bay there was nothing to do but admire the pumpkins waiting for harvest then cross the street and hitch a ride back to the city.
On the Internet I read that this year's Art and Pumpkin Festival in Half Moon Bay is the 37th annual which means it began the year after we were there. The 2006 winner of the "pumpkin weigh-off" weighed 1,223 lbs. I don't recall seeing a pumpkin like that in 1969. What I remember is farmland stretching as far as I could see and being happy on the road in a blue pickup, young and unencumbered, with my best friends by my side.
What makes me so melancholy this time of year? I wish I could gather them all up nowmy boys, my friends, the pumpkins and dahliasand make time stand still for just a little while.