The Great Pumpkin Harvest of 1984
Sonoma County, California

The story that here follows is a true story and I relate it in the fashion of the historian who stakes his professional pride on speaking true things as they happened and not in some other way. The events that are related here took place as I relate them and I know this because I witnessed them and can call on many others who witnessed them with me. I tell this story now because it happened in these parts in my time and I would be sorry to see it lost in the times that come.

It happened that in 1984 I was attending a primary school which was equipped with a great many fields for planting and staffed with a farmer whose place it was to plant these fields. The farmer's name was Fred Marshal and he was a good farmer, for all that I could tell, especially when it came to pumpkins. Now in this year around planting time, or some time previously, he got it into his head that the thing to do was to plant but one crop and that that crop should be pumpkins. There has been, in the years that followed, much speculation into the nature of the reasoning that led him to this conclusion and some have claimed that he felt that there was in the world a great dearth of pumpkins and that he, finding himself a magnanimous soul, had set himself the task of single-handedly rectifying this wrong; while others argued that he gambled that no other farmer in the county had any intentions in that year of raising any pumpkins and so hoped to produce a monopoly of the pumpkin market; others yet speculated that he had been given a quantity of pumpkin seed and reasoned that the frugal thing to do was to plant the seed he had and buy no other; and there was even a small minority who mumbled, although always quietly and never in public places, that the man had not reasoned at all and had not a dram of sense to speak of. We who were young, however, saw things in a different light and we knew that this man had an understanding, which others lacked, of the inner nature and hidden properties of pumpkins and that it was this insight that led him to the deeds he did.

Whatever the true nature of the causes that led to his decision, it is certain that in this year Fred planted all his fields and acres with pumpkins and no other crop but pumpkins. Now, the bulk of the crop had been planted in the fertile flood plains that were inundated each year by the winter rains and so it was that in this fecund ground, for better or for worse, the great pumpkin crop suffered no calamities and came up in its entirety and was, to speak truly, a staggering sight to see. Neither I nor anyone I knew, nor anyone I'd ever herd of, nor anyone anyone I knew had ever heard of, had any recollection of ever having seen so many pumpkins in one sitting as one could see by standing on the fence that surrounded those fields and gazing out into that green and orange dotted sea of vegetation. And if one went out into the middle of those fields, it was as if the whole world were composed of nothing but pumpkins. And at the time we imagined that there was something in that thought that may have had something to do with the causes that brought these things to be.

There was such a multiplicity of pumpkins in this single crop that I don't doubt that it drove down the price of pumpkins in the entire county and the neighboring counties besides by the mere fact of its existence, but it is absolutely certain that it drove down the price of these particular pumpkins because, as it was, Fred had not, in all the time his pumpkins were growing, given any thought as to where, or how, to sell them, either through lack of foresight or, as we who were young suspected, on account of some inner reasoning to which he alone was privy. Eventually, as the supply was so vast, and kept confidential from all but the most secluded demand, it was declared, though never publicly, that the pumpkins could be had for the taking by any one who would take them and they were piled in ever increasing mountains which, howsoever high they rose, never seemed to deplete the fields of those pumpkins they still held. We speculated concerning the rains that were inevitable and the floods that might follow, especially with regards to the fate of the lower field; we availed ourselves of necessary causes and empirical evidence and even some mystic elements whose presence we claimed was spoken for by the very magnitude of the enterprise.

When no one was looking, we utilized the mountains for the purpose of a game by which one became sole ruler of the mountain by picking up a pumpkin and laying low anyone who dared ascend; the trick to the game, as I saw it, was to be on the mountain first and hope none of the others were strong enough to throw a pumpkin all the way to the top. We built one fort which was entirely unsatisfactory but was, nonetheless, the source of more than one discussion on the principles of architecture. We fantasized about the grandest Halloween that anyone anywhere had ever heard of; the streets of the towns would be lined with jack o' lanterns, great boulevards of howling and tortured faces who's souls flickered behind their yellow eyes. And it strikes me now that, perhaps, Fred was a jack o' lantern artist in the old tradition and spent his nights cutting pumpkins as the Italian masters had cut corpses. Primarily, however, we came to the pumpkin patch because we felt, in fact we knew, that it was here, and no where else, that our questions would be answered. Here we watched the upper fields slowly drained of the bulk of their pumpkins and the gradual evanescence, by means of some considerable grace, of the heaps themselves until the flood plain was the only field still overflowing with its crop. Some of the boys felt that we were being cheated of our rightful explanation and the ranks of the vigilant watch dwindled as time went on but we whose faith was still strong staked all our hope on the lower field and because of this undaunted spirit we were not perturbed when the green of the plants began to fade and shrivel until at last the whole field was but a vast arena of brown mud covered everywhere with great orange globes.

Now, Fred had at this time a wife whose name was Kimball Dodge; and he may have one now for all I know, though not the same wife for reasons which belong to a different tale, although I allow that the the pumpkins may have played some part in that tale as well for it beats the deliberations of any historian to determine the full range of effects in such complex and involved cases.

Kimball was a determined woman and well willing to work within the confines of things which were beyond her control and as her husband had set himself the task of single-handedly growing all these pumpkins, and as they were clearly going nowhere of there own accord, she, being a brave woman, set herself the task of single-handedly cooking all these pumpkins and she brought to this task those qualities which I have already mentioned she possessed. She composed and compiled, in the weeks and months that followed, a complete catalog of all dishes that can be made of, or include, pumpkins which, to the best of my knowledge, has never been surpassed. Although suspicion has been cast on the greatness of her endeavors by some jealous, less creative cooks due to the fact that she never published her findings, I myself have never doubted for I observed her stocking her private pile, which was kept near her wood pile, from the greater piles on numerous occasions and I believe she herself did away with one or two whole heaps of pumpkins.

Our mothers became very distraught over our interest in the pumpkin affair because whenever they came to fetch us from school they were invariably forced to collect us down by the farm where, as soon as they were within a hundred yards of the farm house, Kimball would be at them to carry forth some canned pumpkins, or some pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cookies, or even just a pumpkin; which request they could never escape except under the condition that they bring the family to dinner at the farm sometime in the next week.

One of my great accomplishments of that time was that I coerced my mother, through means of which I almost never availed myself, to accept this invitation which was the envy of my friends and which I considered imperative to the furtherance of our communal effort.

The meal was a veritable pumpkin extravaganza. It began with a salad over which had been sprinkled baked and lightly seasoned pumpkin seed and moved on to a pumpkin soup. There were two courses. The first was a dish of stuffed pumpkin replete with a nutty filling the bread for which, I was delighted to discover, involved the use of dried pumpkins. The second course was a pasta with a peanut sauce. The pasta was of an orange hue and, although no one ever asked, I dare say no one ever doubted. We had pie for desert and the adults drank a liqueur which I later discovered was distilled from fermented pumpkin mash which only served to confirm my belief that Kimball's cookbook was indeed the singular masterpiece of its unique genre. Later, in the company of some more practically minded friends, I calculated that since there were five in my family and three in Kimball's, we must have consumed no less than six pumpkins in one evening.

The dinner was at the heart of our discussions for more than a week. We analyzed it in all of its particulars and compared it to the reports we had of two previous dinners and although we were able to draw some sound conclusions we were nevertheless dismayed, for time was running short and we did not feel ourselves any closer to a satisfactory answer. The rains had begun to set in with persistence and a general disposition of foreboding prevailed among us.

As it happened, there was a flood in early December and school was called off for two days after a weekend of torrential rain. On Wednesday classes resumed. As soon as the first break was called, we were already running and we did not stop running until we had run down the drive that joined the classrooms with the farm and run past the farm buildings and past the farm house and were standing in a row on the fence that looked out onto the largest and lowest of the pumpkin fields. It was with profound awe that we gazed out into the empty expanse, and it was a moment of sure revelation when we, each of us, realized at the same instant that of all the fruit and of all the vegetables in the world there is none made so perfectly for floating as a pumpkin. We now understood that Fred had accomplished the most sophisticated deus ex machina possible. By transmuting the Act of God, which is the bane of most every farmer, into a boon, he had joined the God with the machine and his pumpkins were distributed by divinity.

The pumpkins, no doubt, deposited themselves here and there all along all the distance from the farm to the sea and some, perhaps, even went so far as to populate the archipelagos of the Pacific.

Kimball was, of course, relieved; Fred was secretly ecstatic; and we were satisfied, although a little saddened that we should now have to turn our attention to more mundane happenings.

It has often struck me as peculiar that in all the time that has passed since these events, no one before me has come forth with a history of these occurrences, since they are clearly so ripe for the telling and so rich with interpretations. I am, however, glad to bring forth the first History of the Pumpkin Affair and can only hope that this first endeavor will be read as a beacon calling more serious and less prejudiced scholars than myself to the great task remaining before us.