We called it “The Pumpkin Patch.”
Halloween was my favorite holiday as a kid. Christmas had an air of melancholy that struck a too-sensitive chord even in my childish heart. Easter was fun, but didn’t particularly stand out.
Halloween was the night we roamed the streets at night for candy–and it was allowed.
I loved the cool of fall. The darkness of it. The wildness of it.
As I grew older, I started loving autumn for other reasons: the respite from the oppressive Southwestern heat, the gray that matched the melancholy that hung on you like a shawl rather than a jab to the heart, the sweet kiss of crisp air on your face, the warm, sweet foods that comforted you. The solemn, lovely, dignified dying of spring born growth.
The Pumpkin Patch, Lombardi Ranch its true name, always kept the festive harvest spirit. It celebrated life born in spring, that labored in growth through summer, and burst forth in all its glory at the height of October. It had mazes in sunflower and corn fields, scarecrow contests with creations hewn by local hands both adorable and morbid to stand along the same path and be admired. The petting zoos brought an opportunity for city and suburban dwellers to lay their hands on creatures they may only see once or twice a year, so distant from agriculture despite living off its bounty year round. Photo opportunities too. The giant jack o’ lantern. It’s probably older than I am.
The jack o’ lantern of Lombardi.
Not every memory was a cheerful one.
I loved Winnie the Pooh. I had a tendency to copy a lot of what I saw on television when I was a little thing; one part of the show that left an impression on me was how Rabbit grew his own vegetables. It inspired me to grow a green thumb when I was barely old enough to read the seed packets. I managed to grow a few things (what the gardeners didn’t destroy) but one plant stuck out in my memory.
One year, I planted a sunflower in our front yard that grew to be a giant. Now, this might not seem very impressive, but it didn’t take long for a sunflower to outgrow me at that time. It looked like any other sunflower, with yellow petals and a stalk that rose like a skyscraper over the shrubs. According to family accounts, I was quite proud of my sunflower.
One day an adult relative tore it out.
I don’t remember how much this affected me, but my mother does. She told me the story years later. We went to the pumpkin patch soon after the loss of the sunflower. Of course, they had their annual crop of behemoths with faces wider than dinner plates, towering over the adults. The moment I lay eyes on them, I was inconsolable. Kids aren’t always known for crying tears that matter, maybe mine didn’t, but it seems I was in mourning. Something I cultured was gone. Here stood others that still lived and beamed at me from above, but not my flower.
What you create can be gone in an instant through no action or say of your own. You are a being in the universe and you are small.
The prison that once held my little brother Lord knows how many years ago. He served just long enough to get a few snapshots.
Once I found a caterpillar outside and raised it to adulthood. It became a moth. It was white with black dots. The adults looked at it and suspected it was an invasive species, but that didn’t change the way I viewed it. It was fed by my hand and grew under my protection. It’s life and existence had value because it was alive and here and mine. It wasn’t my first either. My first was yellow with black dots. It too grew to adulthood and we released it to live a natural life in what was probably not its native surroundings.
This second moth stood out, mostly because of its life after it hatched from the chrysalis. The thing was either still recovering from emergence or its sheltered upbringing left an impression on its little moth brain. It seemed a bit apprehensive about taking flight. I don’t remember my first being the same way, but it took so long to fledge it caught my attention and even the attention of my family. My mother, siblings, and I tried to coax it several times to take to the wing but it would not fly.
I was patient.
Later in the day, the moth and I went into the back yard, just the two of us. I held out my hand from the railing overlooking the hilltop of neighbor’s yard.
From there, it took flight. Out of my reach. Into life.
Once it flew into the trees I could no longer see it. I went inside, climbed the stairs up to my room and cried. My baby was grown and gone.
The moth’s story didn’t end there.
Some time later, probably a few months. I was playing in the back yard when I saw a moth crawling on one of my toys. It was white, with black spots, some of the fluff worn off from age. It let me pick it up without fear.
I brought it inside and we spent time together. Old times.
My baby came back to say hello, thank you, and goodbye.
After a brief reunion, I returned it to the world it now claimed as home and it flew away. It didn’t come back again. It had other places to fly, ones it could not return from. And that was ok.
*Note. The reminiscence piqued my curiosity and I did a little research on my moth. I suspect it was a female salt marsh moth. It’s native to our region, so not invasive after all. Whew.*
By Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren (# 8131 – Estigmene acrea – Salt Marsh Moth) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Growth never stops. Neither does change.
A few years ago, our region experienced a drought so severe that the ranch couldn’t grow enough produce to put on the event. It took a break. And did so the next year. The owner is elderly and his family is tired too.
Rumor has it that Lombari’s is closing for good.
It was open this weekend. Only this weekend. Just a small section of the property. No scarecrows, no corn or sunflowers, no mazes, no petting zoos. Just a small patch of pumpkins, the jack o’ lantern photo-op, and a view of the grounds where childhood happened. The places my grandparents walked with us; grandpa is gone, grandma is here, but I am all too aware of the brevity of life.
I’m going to be 30 years old in a few months. It sounds strange, or maybe it doesn’t, but I feel this birthday creeping up on me like a rolling wave ready to rearrange the shoreline.
I won’t go into every detail, but next year promises some big changes in terms of life circumstances and lifestyle in general. And that’s just the things I’m expecting. Life has a way of bringing the unexpected.
I won’t lie, change frightens me. I feel the hand of God whenever actual change does happen because I rarely instigate it and, more often than not, it’s dropped onto my lap or forced upon me. This upcoming one is mix of both. I have an opportunity, but grasping it will take effort and decision-making on my part.
And I’m scared.
When I parted Lombardi’s today, I left with a little squat pumpkin, the kind child me would have picked, a commemorative bag and pencil, and sat in my car and sobbed. My childhood is dying. I’m a 29 year old woman and I don’t feel even remotely like an adult. My 20s are a marvelous straddling of two worlds. One is both chaotic and stagnant, rarely truly happy, but familiar. The other is the unknown, filled with prospects and threats.
It could mean flying away to live a full life the way God intended, or being pulled from the roots to wilt in a garbage can. I trust God, I know I have to fly someday. His hand is not one that leaves you.
But I’m still scared.
My little white moth had valid reasons to be afraid to leave my hand. It was embarking on a world filled with hungry mouths eager to snap it up, wind, rain, heat, an uncertain food supply, and strange humans with hands less gentle than the one it clung to, but it still opened its wings to adventure. To purpose. To life.
Maybe one could learn lessons from that brave little moth.
I’ll try to remember.
And I’ll remember the days at Lombardi, ones that were sunny but cool, where we could smell the hay and feel the hollow thump on our palms as we selected our pumpkins. I’ll remember the roots, but spread the wings.