A Pumpkin Story for October

I’d planned to write this week about the Allardt Pumpkin Festival, which I visited for the first time ever last Saturday. But then something else happened.

I stole a pumpkin from Food Lion. I didn’t mean to, and for a few days I didn’t even know I’d done it. I was in the produce section, shopping for apples and avocados, when two huge bins filled with pumpkins caught my eye. One held traditional orange pumpkins, medium-sized and nicely shaped, perfect for jack-o-lanterns. Five-ninety-nine each, the sign said. In the other bin were the unusual specimens—pumpkins of many shapes and sizes and colors, including those covered with warts that always make my stomach feel a little queasy

I spotted a pale green pumpkin, about 12-inches across, flattened as though a giant hand had mashed down on it as it grew. I knew that pumpkin would look perfect on the rickety old buggy bench beside my front door, nestled among the fading but still hanging-on summer flowers, so I heaved it onto the lower rack of my shopping cart.

When I got to the check-out counter, I pointed to the pumpkin and asked if its price was $5.99. The cashier shook her head and said no, special pumpkins cost $8.99. I sighed real big and told her I thought that was a lot, but that I really liked the pumpkin so OK. She rang up my purchases and I swiped my credit card and headed for home. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I didn’t even look at the receipt until a couple of days later when I was cleaning out my purse. The pumpkin wasn’t on it. I was a thief. An accidental thief, but a thief nonetheless.

Should I immediately cease what I was doing and head straight to Food Lion? Should I stop by the next time I was in town and confess? Or should I just say “too bad, too sad, their mistake” and let it go? After all, it was only a pumpkin.

Though I hadn’t carved or drawn a face on it, that smushed green pumpkin seemed to watch me with a guilt-inducing stare every time I went in my front door. It was on my mind as I headed to Allardt last Saturday for the Pumpkin Fest, which seemed more a vendor fest than a celebration of pumpkins. There were booths that sold honey and hot pepper jelly and booths that sold Confederate flags and booths that sold t-shirts with slogans like NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR BEING A PATRIOT.

A woman handing out free yard signs that said JESUS IS COMING R U READY asked me if I wanted one but I said no thanks.

Food trucks were everywhere and because I was really hungry, I chose one with a short line. I’m not sure why I didn’t take that as a bad sign, but I’ll know better next time. Barbecue was the only item on the menu. Rather than order a sandwich or nachos, I chose something that sounded more exotic. It turned out to be a Solo cup filled with a small scoop of bland shredded pork topped with a large scoop of watery canned corn, which was garnished with a sprig of cilantro and a dried-out slice of lime. It was awful.

But I did get to witness the winning pumpkin being fork-lifted onto the trailer that would take it home to West Virginia. It was an Atlantic Giant white pumpkin, weighing in at 1, 618 pounds, and was definitely impressive. That pumpkin inspired me, when I got back to Cookeville, to stop at Food Lion and tell the cashier about my accidently-stolen pumpkin. I handed him a ten-dollar bill, which he gratefully accepted. “Not many people would have done this,” he said.

“Done what?” I asked.

“Been so honest.”

I smiled as he handed me my change, hoping he was wrong.

(October 8, 2022)