It is one of life’s delightful conundrums that the most fundamental human truths are often found in unexpected places. Take, for instance, the pumpkin patch. At first glance, there is not much to learn from fields of curling vines and trampled squash. But in bucolic settings across the country each fall, the humble gourd reminds us that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.
We usually get our holiday pumpkins out of the big cardboard bins near the front entrance of the local grocery store. This can be a time saver but is nowhere near as much fun as the pumpkin patch. For one thing, I find it very hard on the shoulders and back to rearrange a half-ton of loose pumpkins so that my children can inspect each and every one. “Just pick one!” I implore, but they insist they are looking for “the perfect pumpkin”. So I upend myself into the bin, legs flailing in the air like grasshopper antennae. I hoist gourds from one side of the bin to the other. Inevitably I cause a pumpkin avalanche and have to start over. How this usually ends up is I get tired of the whole thing and repeat, “Just pick one!”, the italics evident in my tone, and we go home with pumpkins that are almost perfect, but not quite.
Thanks to having out of town visitors one fall, we had an excuse to visit an authentic pumpkin patch instead. The day of our visit could not have been a more perfect Minnesota fall day. The crisp clear air dictated a light jacket; the brilliant sunshine, dark glasses. At this particular patch, the pumpkins lay scattered over a couple of acres of gentle hills. Pumpkins of every size, shape, and color awaited our all-knowing selection process. They clamored for our attention – a fetching turn of orange rind here, a saucily curving stem there. This was not going to be easy. As I accompanied my daughter among the furrows, this is how it went.
“How about this one?”
“No, too small.”
“It’s flat on one side.”
“I don’t want one with any green on it.”
“How about this one?”
“Yes. That one looks great. Wait – it’s rotten on the bottom.”
And we would start all over again.
“Over there is one,” was our mantra. Over there, over there, our necks bent at the same angle as when we hunt for shells at the beach. The next time we looked up from our search, we found ourselves on the far edge of the patch, led astray like Cortes searching for the Seven Cities of Cibola. At last, at last, we found The Perfect Pumpkin. It was of medium size with a goodly stem, strong enough and long enough to use as a handle. It was uniformly, yes, perfectly, round , that perfect pumpkin orange in color. Feeling pretty proud of ourselves, we cruelly detached it from its life-giving vine and retraced our steps to the entrance of the patch. We had not traveled five steps before my daughter spied another Perfect Pumpkin. This one was dark green with lighter green stripes, more tall than round and about the size of a small coffee can. So much for the 'no green ones' rule. Snap! went the vine and we added it to our small collection.
Back up the hill we went to pay for our treasures. We passed a young mother struggling to turn a stroller around on the uneven ground. Two very large (and slightly imperfect) pumpkins occupied the front and back seats; its intended occupants were nowhere in sight. We stepped aside to get out of the way of another pumpkin patch customer. She had large, space-age combination wagon-wheelbarrow contraption full to overflowing with at least a hundred pounds of pumpkin aboard. Definitely not perfect pumpkins, but to some people, size matters.
A young fellow of three or four years was in the process of educating his father in the pumpkin selection process. “Do you like this one?” the father asked, pointing to a traditional-looking specimen. “No, Dad,” was the reply. “I like the green ones.”
Behind the checkout counter, pumpkins lined a table awaiting the Pumpkin Shuttle. The Pumpkin Shuttle relieves one of the task of hauling one’s pumpkins over hill and dale, from the patch all the way back to the parking lot. I marveled at the variety awaiting the Shuttle. You could make the argument that the table should be filled with Perfect Pumpkins because of course all of the Imperfect Pumpkins would be left behind in the fields. You might imagine all of the pumpkins on the table would be of about equal size, shape, and color in order to meet the universal criteria of ‘perfect’. But of course, this was not the case. These pumpkins were a jumble - tall, oval, short, squatty, orange, yellowish, green, combinations of all colors, streaks, lines, stems, no stems. There was a Perfect Pumpkin there for every person who was at the patch that day. And of course, everyone was certain THEY had selected the Perfect Pumpkin, leaving the rest of us to settle for less. But I smiled at my daughter in smug satisfaction. We both knew the Perfect Pumpkins were going home with us.
The original version of this post first appeared in August 2011.