PUMPKIN LOVE

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Despite the fact that my children are grown, I still rush out to buy my pumpkins each Halloween. Rob and I rummage through the piles until we find our perfect one. We each eye the other’s choice with a mild slice of pity, as if to say, “Too bad you didn’t get the one I found.”

Everyone loves pumpkins, even the hooligans who sneak into your yard under the cover of darkness and smash your jack-o-lanterns. I’m sure they would never smash their own pumpkins. People can’t help falling in love with pumpkins. Pumpkins are the vegetable with personality. So much personality that we carve and paint faces into them in an attempt to bring out their true identity.

Growing up in a flat northern Illinois landscape, one of my favorite memories was our annual trip to a small farm less than a quarter mile from our suburban home. The pumpkins had already been harvested and were spread out in size order ranging from 5 cents for the smallest, up to two dollars for the largest. I usually picked out one that cost a dime. It was easy to carry and I could tell it loved me back.

Thirty-five years later, when my own daughter traveled to a pumpkin patch on a school trip, I recognized the instant bond she and her friend had made with their personal selection. I asked my daughter why she had picked out that particular pumpkin.

“Because this is my baby,” she answered as she kissed it.

As a young boy, my son had pumpkin red hair and spent his childhood quests for the perfect pumpkin camouflaged among his choices. Here was proof that we had pumpkin in our genes.Image

Rob’s affinity for pumpkins ran so deep he decided to impersonate one when he was a child and spent the better part of one Halloween with his head crammed into a plastic pumpkin shell. When I first saw this photograph I thought, “I better marry this man.”

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The first year we were married we lived in Brooklyn and when October rolled around we set out in search of pumpkins. We found an old Italian woman selling pumpkins from her vegetable stand.

“How much?” I asked the vendor.

“What?” The lady squawked at me in a thick accent.

“How much are the pumpkins?” I tried again.

She rolled her eyes. “You tell me which ones you want,” she said sucking her teeth and inhaling, “and I tell you how much.”

“Uh, you tell us how much and I’ll tell you which one we want,” Rob said.

Needless to say we didn’t buy any from her. But I felt a little sad and guilty. Sort of like someone who goes to a pet shelter to adopt a cat but leaves empty-handed. Those pumpkins deserved better than her.

So far this year we’ve brought home five pumpkins. Three traditional orange pumpkins, a Cinderella pumpkin and a white one also known as a lunar pumpkin. The lunar pumpkin reminds me of a relative. He sits on the kitchen table and keeps me company at 6:15 in the morning as I drink my tea and read the newspaper. I keep thinking about putting him outside with the others but I can’t bear to part with him.Image

BORROWED LANDSCAPES

ImageI try to choose homes with a view. Our first apartment in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn was on the top floor of a third floor walkup. During the 1985 centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty we hosted a roof-top party with a clear line view of New York Harbor. Our friends ate, drank and danced to fireworks but what they really talked about was the view. 

Then we moved out to the North Fork of Suffolk County and we had to walk around the corner to the view. The Long Island Sound stretched out endlessly from the tops of enormous beach boulders. The winter was cold and lonely for newlyweds who missed city life but the view of the Sound helped sustain us that entire year. I still miss it.

            Our next apartment was a dump in Yonkers in a crummy neighborhood where I made the mistake of staring at a neighbor’s Mohawk haircut a few seconds too long. The girl shouted out every time she saw me.

“Hey lady, what’re you staring at?”

It worsened when the girl stared calling out to Rob.

“Hey, man what is your wife staring at?”

“There really is no good answer to that question,” Rob said.

 For obvious reasons we only lived there a year as well but the backdoor faced out into an expansive valley with colorful houses that dotted the landscape. I could sit on the back staircase free to watch the sunset each night with no thought of seeing “the girl.”

We moved to Hastings-on Hudson and for nine years we gazed at the Palisades out two picture windows. I used to stand in a darkened kitchen in the middle of the night and watch the flashing green lights on the passing barges. It didn’t matter if it was a blizzard, you would find the slow, steady chug of the barges as a source of comfort.Image

In 1997 we moved to White Plains and lived on the top floor of a house that was built on the highest point of land in the entire city. From our veranda we had a line of site view of the World Trade Center Towers. We bought our lake house and moved away before they came down and I’m glad we weren’t there anymore to be constantly reminded. Because when you have something in your daily view you start to feel like it belongs to you. The Japanese refer to this as a “borrowed landscape.”

The best way to appreciate a borrowed landscape is to leave it. Once you return the relationship strengthens. We recently returned from a trip to Seattle to visit my brother and his wife. Their beautiful house rests on the top of Sixth Avenue in Edmonds, Washington with a partial view of the Puget Sound.

“Wow, what a great view, “ I noted.

“It is,” my bother agreed. “But if we could tear that house down it would be an even better view.”

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View from Chris and Sonia’s House

The point was hard to argue except everybody blocks someone, somewhere. But their view still boasted a daily surveillance of the Kingston Ferry traveling back and forth and the sun setting over the Puget Lowland, hard to beat. While I was there I found myself taking some ownership of their view and I started to miss my own so I knew it was time to leave. Traveling provides views of every variety and most of them aren’t meant to last, which is why we buy postcards and take photographs. Even stationary views are altered by light and shadow. Our most impressive view was of Mt. Rainier at sunset that Rob took from the airplane window as we began our descent into Seattle. It isn’t one anyone is likely to see again anytime soon. Image