My Ohio: Orange Glow

A mother shares what she’s learned from years of growing pumpkins with her kids.

Maybe it’s because as a little girl I bought into the Cinderella fairy tale. I thought there wasn’t anything more romantic than Cinderella being whisked away to the palace ball in a beautiful carriage that was once an orange pumpkin. The story fueled my fascination with pumpkins, and I have always loved them.

When my two kids were little, we grew our own. Every year my sons dutifully plunked their pumpkin seeds into little mounds of soil in our small garden patch. We watered, weeded, watched. And sure enough, we harvested three or four pumpkins every year, just enough to carve and put on the front steps to let trick-or-treaters know we were passing out candy.

Most years our jack-o-lanterns had triangle eyes and noses and jagged-tooth smiles. I am a traditionalist. I did carve an elaborate carousel one year, complete with prancing horses. The pumpkin had one admirer: a 6-year-old who told me he liked the dinosaurs I carved. I went back to triangles.

Our small pumpkin crop was acceptable for many years. But then my sons decided they wanted big pumpkins. Not just big, but mammoth, the kind that win blue ribbons at the Ohio State Fair. So I splurged on a GUARANTEED TO GROW GIANT PUMPKINS seed packet.

The pumpkins began to get fat. But I worried they would be separated from their vines. I know some growers of champion pumpkins stay overnight in their fields guarding their orange giants. A wild animal might stop by for a snack, or a competitive grower could sneak into the patch and do some harm.

But, no, I said to my sons, no one was bedding down outside with the pumpkins. However, that summer our water bill was ridiculous. With the amount of water I used to plump up the pumpkins I could have filled the community swimming pool.  

Our pumpkins were big that year, but not that big. The kids were disappointed. But they had reached the age when plastic severed hands were more fun for Halloween than dumb old pumpkins. That October 31 we finished carving the semi-big pumpkins and carried them to the front steps.

We lived on a street near a house that always had the best Halloween decorations in town. The neighbors’ 20-foot-high black inflatable spider terrorized little kids, 100 skeletons danced from tree limbs and tombstones popped up in their lawn. And of course, they displayed a zillion carved pumpkins, whose yellow eyes shined menacingly in the dark.

We positioned our jack-o-lanterns on the steps, lit the candles and stepped back to admire our attempt. The scene looked rather pathetic compared to that of the neighbors, the Addams Family, or whatever their name was. We stared in silence for awhile until my younger son said, “Hey, at least we grew these pumpkins ourselves.”

Yes, we did. I felt good knowing my sons were (sort of) proud of something they had done themselves. So the boys left to meet their friends to do whatever I hoped they wouldn’t do on Halloween night. And I went inside to eat the roasted pumpkin seeds that everyone claims they like, but which are really inedible.

I still carve a pumpkin every Halloween, although there are fewer and fewer trick-or-treaters on my street every year. I love the way the jack-o-lantern grins in the dark and I figure if nothing else, I can add the soggy fellow to my compost pile when the time comes.

I have learned one thing, though. I don’t need a pumpkin coach to make me feel like Cinderella. My husband’s old van that always needs to be washed will do just fine.

Jill Sell is an Ohio Magazine contributing editor based in Sagamore Hills.