Pumpkin Painter

By Louise Ulmer

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    [A virtuous woman] perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. … Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates. (Prov. 31:18, 31.)

    It had been a good year for pumpkins. That was the trouble.

    “I really have to congratulate you, honey,” my mother said to my father. “I never dreamed I’d ever be married to a successful pumpkin farmer, but here I am.”

    My father smiled. “I’m a regular Johnny Pumpkinseed,” he said.

    I asked, “What are you going to do with all these pumpkins, Dad? There must be a million of them!”

    “They’re going to market first thing tomorrow morning, Dot. Pumpkins like these will make me a rich man.”

    “How rich?”

    “Rich enough to pay the bills, if he’s lucky.” That was my mother’s line.

    My father had been a machinist in an auto factory. When it closed down, he borrowed some money and said that he was going to make his dream come true. Mother told everyone that he was “going into pumpkins.”

    Dad had said what he always said, “If I can make my dream come true, you can take an art class and work on your dream.” My mother had always wanted to study commercial art, but there was never enough money for it. I heard her tell Dad that she was going to do this as soon as we kids got through school.

    “But,” my mother had wailed, “if your dream doesn’t pay off, we’ll be in worse debt than ever. Wouldn’t you like to get retrained in computers?”

    “Dear, you have a negative attitude,” Dad said as he lifted a pumpkin to test the weight and solidness of it. “I hope it doesn’t rub off on the children.”

    It might rub off on my little brothers, but I knew it wouldn’t rub off on me. I loved the farm too much. I figured if we could make it work, I’d be able to get a horse someday.

    Well, here we were, looking at enough pumpkins to make a million Cinderellas’ dreams come true. We all picked pumpkins and loaded them into the back of the pickup. Then we picked another load and filled the back of the station wagon. It didn’t take many. Some were too big for me to carry.

    The biggest pumpkin of all was too big for the station wagon. Dad saved that one for its seeds—and for the Biggest Pumpkin contest at the county fair.

    Dad drove the truck, and Mom drove the station wagon into town. Sure enough, Dad sold the lot of them at the first supermarket. We had a party that night. I went out after supper and looked at all the rest of the pumpkins shining in the sunset like pure gold. For the first time, I was glad that my father had lost his factory job and decided to live off the land.

    Then trouble came to Pumpkinland. It had been a good year for pumpkins—not just for us Martindales but for all the other pumpkin farmers as well. After we’d sold a few more loads of pumpkins, Dad stopped taking his pickup into town. The markets had plenty of pumpkins.

    My mother made and froze pumpkin recipes until there was no more space.

    Dad said, “I wonder what Johnny Appleseed would have done?”

    “He would have moved to town and gone into computers,” my mother said.

    Dad decided to open a roadside stand. All the time I wasn’t in school, I helped to work at the stand with Mother. It was fun at first, when the customers came to buy pumpkins. But soon they were whizzing by without so much as a wave.

    “We need a sign,” I said that Thursday afternoon.

    “What for, Dot? They can see this pile of pumpkins a mile away.”

    “We need a sign that really stops traffic.”

    Mother had been painting on a small canvas while we sat there watching customers ignore us. “Bring me the biggest pumpkin you can carry,” she said.

    In a few minutes, Mother had painted “PUMPKINS” on it.

    “It needs a picture,” I said.

    She added a purple spider with long white fangs. I had to laugh.

    The pumpkin took its place in front of the stand, facing the coming traffic where it could do its best to lure customers. My mother had such fun painting the sign that she painted a few more spiders on a few more pumpkins. I set them out front too.

    The next cars that stopped bought all the spider pumpkins for Halloween. That encouraged Mother, and she painted jack-o’-lantern faces on pumpkins. Before long they sold too. Now, the shed roof didn’t have to fall on us to show us we had a good thing going. Mother painted pumpkins as fast as she could—weird faces, snakes, funny faces, and more purple spiders. Friday there was no school, and all day we sold her painted pumpkins. And those were about the only pumpkins we sold.

    That evening when we told my father, he said, “Well, well, I never thought I’d be married to a successful commercial pumpkin artist, but here I am.”

    My mother said, “Thank you, Johnny Pumpkinseed.”

    After that, Mother couldn’t paint fast enough. She made some stencils and outlined the figures on the pumpkins. Then I filled in the outlines, and she followed with the details. We worked most of the night. Bright and early Saturday morning we were back in business.

    Dad came home jubilant to tell us that he’d talked a chain of doughnut shops into giving away a free pumpkin with every two dozen doughnuts sold.

    “With or without faces?” my mother asked.

    “Ah! That’s the best part,” Dad announced. “They want some of your painted pumpkins to decorate the inside and then a truckload of unpainted ones to pile out front to give away.

    Finally we were able to see the end of the pumpkins. We didn’t sell them all, but we did have enough money to pay the bills.

    “There’s even enough left over for a horse,” Dad told me.

    I thought about this for a long time, then decided that the money should go for an art course for Mother. It was her turn.

    Illustrated by Shauna Mooney