One of my favorite stories involved my dad, of all people, who hated gardening and never understood why my mom insisted on having a garden. I was no more than seven years old at the time, when I planted some pumpkin seeds in our backyard. But I planted them late, and my crop consisted of one tiny pumpkin. I watered and took care of it as best I could, knowing very little about gardening except that watering was necessary. That little pumpkin was pitiful. It was the “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” of pumpkins.
Halloween was fast approaching and I was ready to harvest my prize jack-o-lantern that may have been six inches in diameter. I was told to wait, it was too small and anxiously I waited. Each morning I would check on my pumpkin before going to school and always my mom gave me the same answer. It is not big enough, you must wait. Finally, the Saturday before Halloween came. I ran out first thing in the morning as I always did and to my utter amazement, I found a beautiful large, blazing orange jack-o-lantern size pumpkin where just the day before had been my tiny, little green pumpkin. I checked the stalk and it was still attached to my vine. My initial thoughts were that my oldest sister and her teenage friends had played a prank on me and thrown out my pumpkin and replaced it with this store-bought one. I was dumbfounded. I showed it to all the neighborhood children. Word spread, the teenagers thought maybe I had replaced it out of shame. One by one, everyone checked the stalk and sure enough, the stalk was firmly attached to the pumpkin and my little vine. In the little village of Gorgas, Alabama, in 1966 a true Halloween miracle had occurred.
I believed in that miracle all through my growing years. I never understood it, but I knew I had seen it and had pulled on that stalk and yes, it was firmly attached. Then when I was 40 years old my father finally told me the rest of the story. He had taken a pumpkin with its vine still attached and had attached it to my vine with epoxy. The precision with which he worked must have been incredible, as no joint was to be seen.
A few years later when dad developed dementia, it occurred to me that what he had done with that stupid pumpkin was maybe one of the greatest lessons he taught me. Those of you who may have known my dad, knew he was not a man of small talk, small acts of kindness, or any such foolishness whatsoever. Also, 1966 in Gorgas, Alabama, was a rough year when the employees at the Alabama Power Company went on strike, and the managers had to run the company. Our family, along with other families of Alabama Power managers received death threats and had to be locked inside the company village next to the plant for six long months. To call the atmosphere tense in the company village would be an understatement of great proportion.
I am not sure what motivated dad to do something so out of character and especially considering what was going on around us. But what my father did that Halloween was give me the gift of a miracle. As a child, the miracle was the great pumpkin appearing on my vine. As an adult, the miracle was my dad stepping out of character and making sure a dream was not quashed. It was an incredible act of love.
My dad taught me home improvement, auto repair and so many other things. But he also knew how to love, and coming from a family that wasn’t known for expressing positive emotions verbally, that was his way of saying I love you. Dad was 70 when he told me what he had done. Most men, including myself would have told their children the truth many years earlier, and basked in the glory of their efforts, but not my dad.
I have two young daughters that dad loved beyond words. My father gave me a miracle when I was seven years old, but he also gave me a miracle when he was 70. He wanted me to know, it’s ok for parents to foster a child’s miracle and that real home improvement begins with loving your family more each day.
My girls and I planted a garden today, and maybe in October, just maybe, The Great Pumpkin will appear.