I’m writing this while in the thick of autumn, and if my social barometer is correct, this is everybody’s favorite season. This is true even for people who live in Florida, for whom fall is simply an extension of summer, which is more or less the same as spring, which is virtually identical to winter. I believe the seasons for Florida are gauged by the amount of sun that is reflected off of the snowbird-driven white Cadillacs that trek back and forth from New York. It’s all very complicated.
I knew fall was coming several months ago by the marketing onslaught of all things pumpkin spice. I realize that there have been some harsh opinions on this, what with everything, including New Yorkers who wander off to Florida, being scented with pumpkin spice, but I like it. Not so much the flavor, but the smell. If one were to go into Starbucks between now and Thanksgiving, it would smell as if they were baking racks of pumpkin pies instead of making coffee. I’ve been conflicted about this since coffee should smell like coffee, not the Mrs. Smith’s frozen pumpkin pie that Mom used to bake.
This all started with the first pilgrims who settled in America. While many of them were off in search of square-toed shoes and tall hats with buckles, some were busy making candles that would not only light up their cabins but would smell as if somebody baked a pie:
“Temperance, that doth smell divine. Slice me a piece of pumpkin pie henceforth, for it shall go well with my new buckle hat.”
“Tis not be a pie that tickles your nose buds, Bartholomew, tis be a candle. And that stuffing you be enjoying be potpourri.”
“Quickly, fetch me a pumpkin chai latte so that I may wash this down, for it be delicious!”
Anyway, it’s everywhere, from the crates of scented pinecones that are stacked outside of stores to the lattes in every coffee shop to the muffins in the bakeries to the Cheerios in my pantry. It’s autumn, and the official scent and flavor of the season is pumpkin. Our household has not been immune to pumpkin mania, as things have begun to pop up that are a part of this theme.
Mrs. G. has a candle or twenty that have various autumnal scents that have charming names such as Sweater Weather, Leaves, and Bird Ox Stuck to Corduroy, and they are generally lit right after dinnertime. I don’t mind it because they only burn for a few hours, but it starts to get a little Keebler Elfish around here if they are ever lit earlier in the day. Either way, the scent will hang in the air until the next day, but it’s not awful. I do get tired of it by December, which coincides nicely with the pumpkin spice candles being replaced with a seasonally appropriate pine-scented variety.
She also has a rotating mix of seasonally scented soaps in the main bathroom. In the summer, there were scents such as Seashore and Lawn Clippings, but right now, it’s something called Weekend Apple Picking. I’m a little concerned about that, so I’m washing my hands a lot trying to use it up before the pumpkin authorities bust down the door and replace it with Jack-O’-Lantern Delight.
Mrs. G. kick-started the fall decorating program with a few small yard flags and some craft fair knickknacks, right before she set off to pick up a few things for dinner. When she came back, there was an enormous pumpkin in the trunk. She ran into the house all excited about this.
“I have an enormous pumpkin in the trunk! You should see it! It’s got a big gnarly stem!” she exclaimed in one breathless burst. She had me with the stem. All too often, pumpkins are hacked off the vine without leaving much of a stem. This is shameful. Pumpkins look better with a long, thick, twisted stem atop a deeply creased pumpkin. Nobody plans on eating these things, so they should look sort of wild—especially if there are no plans on carving them. We used to carve our pumpkins when Miss G. was a little kid, but she’s thirty-one now and hasn’t lived home in a while. These days, the pumpkins stay whole until they get mushy, and then they get smashed out back for the deer, squirrels, and birds.
The new trunk pumpkin was immediately placed on the front porch, and after very little studying of the situation; Mrs. G. decided we needed more—a whole lot more. “C’mon … let’s go get more pumpkins!” she said, and so we did.
The first stop was the farm market up the street, where she stocked up on small, baseball-sized pumpkins to put around inside the house. We didn’t get the big pumpkins there because they had an industrial-sized scale set up near the cash register, and for the seasoned pumpkin scout, this is a major warning sign. We left and went to the grocery store, where they were selling pumpkins for a set price, not per pound. Buying pumpkins by the pound is a fool’s game because these things can weigh as much as a wet bag of concrete. All too often, I’ve seen hapless parents trudge up to the scale with a folksy red wagon full of huge pumpkins and wide-eyed kids hopped up on candy apples and cider, only to get a pumpkin bill that’s more than their car payment. Nope. Not me. The smart pumpkineer pays a flat price per pumpkin, and that only happens in grocery stores, so that’s where we went next.
I grabbed a cart from the cart vestibule, fanned my way past the dense funk of spice-scented pinecones, and wheeled it outside, where we began the process of selecting the best of the best—and the display went on for at least fifty yards. Mrs. G. carefully studied each decorative squash for balance, appearance, and stem-worthiness, and in the end, we had six beach ball sized pumpkins with stems as thick as a baseball bat.
Unfortunately, this load of carefully balanced pumpkins clearly exceeded the weight limit of the shopping cart by a few hundred pounds. It was now impossible to steer the cart, which is what I had to do to get our three-story load of pumpkins into the store, zigzag it through the floral and produce departments, wind it past the bakery, dodge the aisle cloggers who haven’t seen each other since high school, and hit the straightaway to the cash registers near the milk coolers. I also had to guide it past the dazed crowd of senior citizen shoppers that were bussed in from every nursing home in North America, plus at least twenty techno-zombies that were hypnotized by the glowing screens of their smartphones. After all of this, I was finally able to aim it through the narrow checkout lane with stems knocking down dozens of packs of gum, roasted peanuts and nail clippers, pay for it all, and then trek out to our car. Pushing a shopping cart full of wobbly, heavy pumpkins should be an Olympic event because it is a heck of a lot more challenging than bobsledding.
We hefted the load into the trunk, carefully trying to make sure they wouldn’t roll around and break off the stems. Mrs. G. ended up carrying one pumpkin on her lap. We then crept out of the parking lot and made our way to the exit, where we had to stop for the traffic light. When the light turned green, I must’ve had a foot spasm or something because I jammed down the gas pedal with a force normally reserved for NASCAR drivers, which jerked the car and caused hundreds of pounds of pumpkins to start rolling around in wild rhythmic thuds. Ballast shifted and the car groaned on the shocks while trying not to tip over on its side. “Don’t break the stems!” Mrs. G. cried as she braced her lap pumpkin with both hands. Meanwhile, I was more concerned with how I was going to drive the car home on the door handles while wearing a pumpkin like a football helmet.
We managed to get home in one piece, where our pumpkin bounty was unloaded and scattered around the front yard. Whether or not these things will last until Halloween is another matter, but for now, they’re posed out there as proper pumpkins should be—stems up, plump, and radiantly orange, where they’ll likely sit until I knock them over while dragging the Christmas tree up to the house.