Pumpkin Sugar (Part 2)


Brose just can’t seem to please his pa. When Pa expected to find him weeding the garden, Brose was tending only the pumpkin patch. Granny had given him pumpkin seeds, and Brose forgot about all the other vegetables. Pa had given up teaching him to play the fiddle—Brose had ten thumbs, Pa’d said. And when he offered to let Brose drive the wagon home, Brose had paid more attention to listening to a bird than to hitching the horses to the wagon. When he’d yelled, “Giddap,” the horses had moved but the wagon hadn’t! Now Brose couldn’t even do a girl’s work right. He’d put the wool he was supposed to card too near the fireplace!

Brose jerked the wool away from the heat, but part of it was already scorched. Ma had told him before that scorch marks would not wash out. Now the whole family would have a streak in their socks to remind them that, even at carding wool, Brose was no good.

Brose was unusually quiet the rest of the evening and the following day, but no one seemed to notice. He went to do chores with Pa and Jeremy, but this time he didn’t even ask if he could try to milk one of the cows. He remembered too well what had happened only a few days earlier.

Pa had been in a hurry, needing all the help he could get. “Seems like you ought to be able to milk Old Brin, Brose,” Pa’d said. “She never kicks. She’ll stand right still for you.”

The cow had stood still, and Brose had done his best, but when he’d finished, Brose knew he hadn’t gotten as much milk as he should have. Pa had taken one look at Old Brin and said, “She doesn’t look dry to me, Jeremy. She hasn’t let Brose have her milk. Better strip her out.”

And Brose had suffered as he watched Jeremy’s smooth, regular milking finish filling the bucket. “I tried,” Brose had said. “I tried to milk her dry.”

Jeremy had poured the milk through the white sack they used as a strainer on the neck of the milk can. “Oh, you’ll get the hang of it, Brose,” he’d replied as he picked up his wooden milk stool and went on to the next cow. “All it takes is practice. Right now, though, come over here and hold Whitey’s tail for me.”

Hold Whitey’s tail! That’s the kind of job I always get, thought Brose. A two-year-old could hold a cow’s tail! Or Jere could just tie it around the cow’s leg, the way he usually does. I won’t do it! But he did. He held it tightly. Whitey tried to swish her tail back and forth, but Brose held on. Not once did he let go of it, and not once did it hit Jeremy in the face.

After the milking was done, Brose walked over to the pumpkin patch. There they were, big and orange and beautiful in the autumn dusk. And they were his. He had raised them all by himself.

He remembered Granny saying, “When pumpkin pie time comes this fall, your pumpkins might be just what we need.” Now he wondered what she’d meant. He had plenty of pumpkins all right, but Granny ought to know as well as anyone how scarce sugar was. They could roast pieces of pumpkin on a bed of coals in the fireplace—Brose’s mouth watered at the thought of a big piece, hot, steaming, and with a big blob of Ma’s fresh-churned butter melting and running down the side—but without sugar, how could Ma make pies?

Brose decided to cut one of the pumpkins right then and clean out the seeds and take it to the house. The evening had turned chilly, and Brose shivered a little as he took out his pocketknife. He glanced up at the sky. It felt cold enough to snow, but the sky was cloudless.

His knife blade was small and a little dull. It took a while for Brose to hack through the tough stem of the pumpkin vine. Then he worked the knife into the top of the pumpkin and began cutting out a piece from the top. He had just finished scraping out the seeds when he heard Pa call.

He had forgotten again! It was time to feed the calf, and here he was in the pumpkin patch! Leaving the pumpkin on the ground, he ran as fast as he could. But he was too late to get the calf bucket ready. Jeremy already had the milk in it. Brose grabbed the bucket and went to feed the calf. That was when he made another mistake!

Later he remembered that when Pa had first given him the job of feeding the calf, he’d told Brose to always hold the bucket tightly while the calf was drinking so that none of the milk would spill out.

“That’s why we feed him on the bucket, Brose,” Pa had explained. “It saves milk. This little feller doesn’t need all the milk Whitey gives. We can feed him enough to grow on and have the rest of her milk for us. But be careful. Every person—and animal, too—in this valley knows what it is to be hungry. We mustn’t waste a thing.”

When Brose set the pail down in front of the calf, he noticed several burrs on its back. While the calf was drinking, Brose pulled a few out, but there were some so far back that he couldn’t quite reach them and hold on to the bucket at the same time. Brose only let go for a moment.

But, of course, it was that same moment when the calf gave an extra hard bunt with his nose! Brose grabbed for the bucket, but he was too late. He could only stand there and watch the milk seep into the ground.

What should he do? Just take the bucket back to the barn and not say anything to Pa? Even as he thought it, Brose knew he couldn’t do that. After all, it wasn’t the calf’s fault. That’s just the way calves are, bunting and pushing. It wouldn’t be fair to make the calf go hungry because of my carelessness, he decided. I’ll have to tell Pa.

Brose went to bed early that night, and it wasn’t until the next morning that he thought of the pumpkin. He hurried out to the patch and found it right where he had left it. It didn’t look spoiled or anything, but there was some water inside.

That’s strange, Brose thought. How come? It didn’t rain last night.

He learned over to take a closer look. There were drops of moisture oozing from the inside of the pumpkin. When he tipped the pumpkin, some of the liquid spilled onto his hand. Brose put the pumpkin down and looked for something to wipe off his hand. Not seeing anything handy, he tried licking it off his fingers. To his amazement it tasted sweet! He took another taste. Yes, it was sweet! Brose grabbed the pumpkin and ran to Granny Dodd’s cabin.

“Granny!” he cried. “Granny!”

He found her at her woodpile, gathering chips in her apron.

“Granny! Look at this! Taste it! Taste it, Granny! It came right out of the sides of the pumpkin! It’s sweet, Granny!”

Granny stood up, letting the chips fall to the ground. She looked at Brose, then carefully dipped a finger into the liquid and tasted it.

“I do declare, Brose! It’s sweet, all right, just like the sap from a sugar maple back home.” Granny had that same sort of smile that Brose had seen when she gave him the seeds. “Now what do you suppose a body might use it for?”

“Pie, Granny! Pumpkin pie with whipped cream!” Brose tasted it again, just to be sure. “It must have been the cold night that did it, Granny. Here. You keep this one. I’m going to cut open about half a dozen and leave them out in the frosty night air.”

The following evening Brose ate his dinner in a hurry, feeling he would burst with excitement if Granny didn’t come pretty soon. Finally he saw her coming across the field that separated the two cabins.

“Pie!” cried Jeremy. The sound in his voice was all Brose had hoped for. His brother’s eyes were about as round as the pie was when Granny held it out piled high with whipped cream. “Is it really pumpkin pie?”

Pa just sat and stared as though he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“The sugar,” said Ma quietly. “Where did you get it?”

“Brose got it,” said Granny, cutting the first piece and handing it to him. “He raised this sugar right in his pumpkin patch. It’s pumpkin sugar.”

Brose turned to see Pa looking at him, and there it was—that very look of approval and pride he had been striving so hard for—all over Pa’s face. Brose was in no hurry. He could wait for his pie, just like Pa and Jere. He handed the plate across the table. “Here, Ma,” he said. “You have the first piece.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Jerry Thompson