Holiday Shorts: The Prequel

Family and the Pumpkin Patch

By Danita Cahill

One late spring, when my daughter Alyssa was a first-grader, I planted a couple extra hills of pumpkins. I figured she and I could enjoy some fun activities together when the pumpkins were ready. Little did I know then that besides providing mother-daughter bonding opportunities, the pumpkin patch would provide story fodder for my brothers for years to come.

While the vines were growing, Alyssa and I daily strolled hand-in-hand to the garden to check the pumpkins for progress. We watched as the golf-ball-sized fruits grew, swelled, and finally turned orange.

In early October, she and I harvested the pumpkins. I let her help decide where we should arrange them for autumn decorations. We piled pumpkins here and there. We tied tall corn stalks to fence posts behind the piles, and topped each pile of pumpkins off with a few colorful gourds. We were happy with the festive, fall look. Later that month, I let Alyssa pick which pumpkins we’d carve into funny-faced Jack-o-lanterns. The rest she and I chunked up, boiled, peeled, pureed and carefully measured into freezer bags to use for holiday baking.

The day before Thanksgiving, I pulled a couple bags of the pumpkin puree out of the freezer to thaw. Thanksgiving morning I was out of bed early to prepare pies and get them in and out of the oven before we headed to my folk’s for dinner.

“Mommy,” Alyssa asked as I was scooping together the ingredients for piecrust, “can I visit with Kendra through the fence?”

“Okay,” I murmured, up to my elbows in flour. I watched out the kitchen window as my daughter skipped across the north field to visit with her young neighbor friend on the other side. The skirt of Alyssa’s blue and white dress bounced with each step. She looked so sweet and carefree. I sighed, imagining all the burrs I’d have to pick out of her knee socks when she got back home.

I was rolling out the piecrust when Alyssa and her friend burst through the back door. “Guess what?” Alyssa announced. “Kendra’s mom said she could come over for an hour.”

I sighed again, thinking my daughter should have consulted me before inviting a friend over. It was Thanksgiving. I was busy. I didn’t have time to run a daycare center. But, it was a holiday, after all, and I decided to make the best of it.

I put the girls to work.

I found out the hard way – it’s not easy to supervise two six-year-old bakers while in the midst of rolling out pie dough.

I tried to be a good overseer as the girls measured the spices. Somewhat patiently, I picked out the bits of eggshell after they cracked the eggs. They whisked the beaten eggs and canned milk together with the pumpkin. I poured the mixture into the finished shells and popped the pies in the oven.

Soon the ginger-spice fragrance of baking pies filled our kitchen. When a knife inserted in the centers came out clean, I pulled the pies from the oven. They turned out fine – or so I thought at the time – great smell, good color, the texture seemed right, and I felt proud that we’d grown the pumpkins ourselves.

I shooed the neighbor girl back across the field, picked the burrs out of Alyssa’s socks, and loaded her and the pies into our Thunderbird. We headed north to Mom and Dad’s.

It was a big gathering, as usual, and after my extended family had digested the generous, traditional Thanksgiving meal, we broke out the desserts. Grandma had baked blackberry pie, my favorite, so I opted for a slice of that, while my mom, aunt, and three brothers each dished up a piece of Alyssa and my homegrown pumpkin pie.

We all plopped on some whipped topping and dug in.

Grandma’s blackberry pie was heaven. And Mom and Auntie didn’t moan, groan or make faces while eating the pumpkin. Looking back on it now, I can’t believe my brothers ate their slices without complaint either.
On our way home that afternoon, for who-knows-whatever reason, I ran the earlier pie assembly through my mind – the egg beating, the milk pouring, the spice measuring. But…what about the sugar?

My memory blipped at that point.

This blip settled into a brain hollow and haunted me for the rest of the 45-minute drive from my folk’s house to mine. I didn’t have a cell phone back then, but as soon as I got inside the door, I called Mom on my land line.

The conversation went something like this:

“Uh, Mom, did you notice anything weird about the pumpkin pie?”

“Well…not really,” Mom said. She was always mindful of other people’s feelings, sometimes almost too kind. “Why?”

“Because I’m not sure your granddaughter and her friend put in any sugar.” Yeah, yeah. Let’s blame this one on the kids, shall we?

“Now that you mention it, the pie wasn’t very sweet.” There was a hesitation on Mom’s end. “I thought maybe you were trying a new recipe.”

A dessert recipe without sweetener? Interesting concept, Mom. “No.” It was time for me to stand up and face the band. “I just plain forgot the sugar.”

“It wasn’t so bad,” Mom hedged, “with lots of Cool Whip.”

Good old Mom.

My brothers, on the other hand, still give me a hard time about my baking skills, or, I should say, my lack thereof. For heaven’s sake – it was four pies. One mistake. Years ago. But brothers, bless their boyish hearts, are not Moms. Brothers thrive on family stories they can really sink their tease into.

A version of "Family and the Pumpkin Patch" was first published in HCI’s book The Ultimate Gardener. Similar stories will appear in Country Girl Confessions: Inspirational Stories of Living and Growing Up Rural, scheduled for an early 2014 release.

Danita Cahill is a multi-published, award-winning writer and photojournalist. She’s written and published more than 2,100 articles and columns in 10 different newspapers; a dozen magazine stories; a non-fiction eBook – Kids are a Crack Up: Humorous Stories from the Mouths of Babes; and two novels – Mist, a supernatural romantic suspense; and Love at First Click, a small-town contemporary romance, and the first in the Bellham Romance series.

To learn more about Danita Cahill, her books and her upcoming releases, check out her Amazon author page, or find her on Facebook.