It was one week before Halloween; the smell of fallen leaves in the air, and candy corn was in the cupboard. Paula and I had promised two of our granddaughters — Elise, age six, and Katherine, age eight — that we would take them to Bandy’s Pumpkin Patch. But eight weeks post-surgery for a lower-back bone fusion, required some planning on my part. Although my pain had diminished, it remained steady and continuous like the hum of a fluorescent light. Okay, I thought, I will take a couple of Excedrin before leaving, and keep two additional Excedrin and one-half of a heavy-duty pain killer in my pocket, just in case someone hits me in the back with a fifty-pound pumpkin. I told Paula about my concerns, but she reminded me that sometimes we just have to suck-it up. And if things go south, Paula can drive.
We went through our checklist as we loaded the van. Treats, drinks, DVDs, pillows, sunglasses, camera, an empty pan and some dramamine, in case the girls become car sick. “I think that’s everything we need for the girls,” Paula said. “Yes, that’s everything,” I answered. “And don’t worry about me. Maybe the metal rods and screws in my back won’t snap.”
The girls joined us for our trip to Bandy’s. Singing, joke telling, and laughing, that’s what we did. Forty minutes later we came to “Pumpkin Patch Lane,” turned right and saw a field of pumpkins, tractors and wagons for hay rides, games, refreshments, and a fall-colored wooded area. I told the girls not to run as I parked the van. (Return the girls in as good a shape as we found them. That’s what grandparents do.) There, just across the field, was a wagon being pulled by a Farmall tractor just like the one I used to drive on my Uncles’s farm. My grandfather had a John Deere tractor which I drove as a teenager. The four of us climbed into the wagon, covered with loose hay. As soon as I sat on the wagon floor, I knew that this was not going to work. With no bales, the loose hay would not smooth out the bumps as we rode across the field. I took a pass and headed for the van where I could rest my back. The three of them leaned over the wagon’s edge as they shouted their goodbyes.
Oh how I loved the “corn cannon,” powered by air pressure that shot an ear of corn some thirty feet towards a target hanging from a distant tree. Although it cost $1.50 for two shots, I still considered it well worth the expenditure.
Hey, Pop, got your ears on?
There were other games as well. The girls enjoyed the slide and playing in the bin full of corn. As we left the game area, we headed for the pumpkins. The girls could have two pumpkins each, but as all grandparents know, they had more. We placed the pumpkins in a metal wagon with rails and a bottom constructed with an open, diamond-shaped design. Good for hauling pumpkins, but not for shelled corn. The girls spotted a black, wooly-worm and placed it on top of the largest pumpkin. We decided to call him Willy. Wooly Worms, sometimes spelled Woolly Worm, are more often a burnt orange color in the center with black or brown on the ends. But some, like Willy, are a solid black color. In some parts of the country people say that a lighter brown worm indicates a mild winter, while a solid black predicts a harsh one. The wooly worm may look small but our Willy had 13 segments and three sets of legs. He had tiny eyes, but they navigated mostly by feeling and touching as he crawled across the ground. Willy reminded me of Paul Revere racing across the countryside announcing that Winter was near. Needless to say, Willy meant a lot to the four of us. Paula offered to pull the wagon while the girls rested from hauling the load of pumpkins.
And then it happened; the unexplainable, the unimaginable. It was fast but needs to be described in slow motion if you are to appreciate the horror. Paula jerked the wagon in order to start its forward movement. Katherine yelled, “Grandma, stop, stop.” Willy had lost his grip on the stem and began sliding down the side of the pumpkin. His tiny feet were unable to latch onto the slick pumpkin. I can’t imagine the surprise and the fear that accompanied Wiily’s descent. He landed on the bottom of the wagon but the momentum carried his body to the diamond-shaped openings. Willy grabbed hold of the metal and completed two summersaults before falling to the ground. A quiet thump and then a squash as the wagon wheel rolled over poor Willy. The guts leaked out of his body. He was dead. Silence. Grandma told the girls how sorry she was to have killed Willy. The four of us walked to the van, heads held low, and placed the pumpkins in the back. I returned the wagon, and as I crawled inside the van, Elise said she would not talk to Grandma for the rest of the day. I explained that it was an accident. Sometimes bad things happen. Lets think about the fun we had today. As we drove away, and the horror had diminished, everyone began talking about all of the things that we had done. Elise talked to Grandma. We sang, told jokes, and promised to go to Bandy’s Pumpkin Patch again next year. We ended the day by going to our house for some of Pop’s famous Chili and corn bread, but that’s another story for another day.