I wrote this essay a few years ago when my son, Connor, and his wife, Samantha, were expecting their first child. That baby turned out to be CJ, Connor Junior, who will turn four this December. His sister Harley also has a December birthday, and she will celebrate her third birthday this year. Paul and I had the privilege and honor of spending the last four and a half months living with Samantha, CJ, and Harley while Connor was deployed in Kuwait. Our driveway was crammed with toys, books burst out of baskets, and playdough found its way into the most unlikely of places. Every day was a treasure, and a week before they were to return to Texas to welcome Connor home, the pumpkin patch opened. CJ and Harley did all the same activities my children did years ago, and, from the glimmer in their eyes, I have a feeling some unknown pumpkin patch in the future will suffer the same fate ours did. This essay is a compilation of conversations we have had over the years about this happy day at the pumpkin patch, so while my grown kids may protest the veracity of the setting, I can assure you all of the memorable events of that day DID happen.
My daughter SarahKate, son Connor, and daughter-in-law, Samantha were going through a stack of old family pictures. A picture of Connor and SarahKate as teenagers made me pause.
“Wait, what day was that?” I asked. The kids sat on the steps of the porch each holding an orange cat. Our golden retriever, Tucker, sat on the step below them and looked over his shoulder at the cats and the kids. Pumpkins were packed in untidy piles around them.
“You don’t remember that day, Mom?” Connor said. “Really? You spent the entire day mad at us.”
“It was a great day,” SarahKate grinned.
“It was a long time ago.” Connor handed Sam the picture.
“You were thirteen and eleven, then? They look happy. Do you remember why you were mad?” Sam handed me the picture.
“I’m not sure.” I stared at the photo. Connor, not yet in the Army, had curly hair. SarahKate had just started wearing make up and her fresh, peachy skin glowed through the luminescent powder. They leaned towards each other teasing the cats.
Something stirred in me.
“What happened that day?” I inquired. “On second thought, maybe it’s better if Sam doesn’t find out and I don’t remember.”
“Oh, no, I want to hear all about this day,” Sam said.
“Mom, come on. It was Pumpkin Patch Day.” SarahKate huffed. “Seriously, Mom? The cow, don’t you remember the cow?”
“Maybe,” I offered, probing my memory.
“What happened?” Sam asked.
“Connor hit a cow.” SarahKate’s face was solemn.
Sam turned to Connor. “How could you hit a cow? How mean.”
“SarahKate, you shouldn’t put it like that,” he glared. I held the photo in my fingertips and searched the young faces in the picture.
They were so young.
“There’s this pumpkin patch we go to every year since we were little. They have games, a petting zoo, and a big field where you can pick your own pumpkin.”
“Apple fritters, too,” SarahKate added. “They’re amazing. All drippy with frosting.”
“SK, I’m talking,” Connor invoked the nickname he gave her years ago. “So, there was this game called the Apple Sling Shot. There was a huge rubber band that you put mushy apples in and you pulled it back as far as you could and then let go. If you were really good you could even aim it.”
“So, Connor aimed for a black and white cow out in the field and he hit it right on the side. We heard a thunk.” SarahKate smirked.
“You guys are being totally unfair,” Connor ran his hand down his face in disbelief. “There were big circles spray painted on the grass. They had to know that people were going to hit the cows standing in the bullseyes.”
“So, you got mad?” Sam asked.
My eyes held hers for a moment.
“If it happened, I’m sure I hustled them out of there as fast as I could. I wouldn’t have wanted to pay for the cow.”
I didn’t want them to see me laugh either, I thought.
“Then,” SarahKate snorted, “she got really mad.”
“No, no, let me tell it,” Connor said. “She marched to the barn and told us to wait while she got fritters and cider.”
“Hmm, let me guess. You didn’t wait like she told you.” Sam frowned at her husband.
Her husband, I thought to myself. My son is someone’s husband.
“Of course not,” Connor and SarahKate screamed with laughter.
“No, my turn,” SarahKate rushed in. “We each had two tickets left. The train was for little kids, but Connor and I jumped on just as it took off. I had the cat,” she purred.
“Always picked the cat,” Connor muttered. “I had the elephant. So we couldn’t fit our legs in the seats, so we sat on top of the cars and held on to the sides. We thought we had enough time to get back before Mom came out, but,”
“I saw them,” I blurted out. “I was so mad I was running next to the train yelling at them to get off the kiddie cars. The cider spilled on my hands and the fritters got mushy.”
“You do remember that day,” SarahKate said astonished.
“I do now,” I retorted. “You kids were so bad.”
“Please tell me they didn’t do anything else,” Sam said.
“Come on, Sam, don’t you know us by now?” SarahKate teased.
My heart sang at the unexpected familiarity.
“All we had left was picking out our pumpkins. So Connor and I got a huge wheelbarrow to carry them back. We always picked out the biggest ones we could lift.” SarahKate looked innocent. “It was Connor’s fault after that.”
“Oh, no,” Sam said looking aghast at Connor. “You didn’t.”
“Oh yeah, we did,” Connor said. “SarahKate climbed in the wheelbarrow and we raced up and down the rows.”
“Then it got wild,” SarahKate broke in. “Tons of little kids were crawling into wheelbarrows and big kids were pushing them through the vines. Parents were yelling and slipping in the mud as they tried to catch them.”
“Oh, my.” Sam was shocked. “What did you do?” She looked at me expectantly.
“I hid in the minivan.” I held my palms up in defeat.
“We had to roll our pumpkins to the car. The cashier took our wheelbarrow away, obviously,” Connor sighed.
“The pumpkins wobbled a lot,” SarahKate remembered.
“It was the happiest day of my life.” I whispered.
“Ah, Mom. That’s nice.” SarahKate smiled.
“Thanks, Mom.” Connor kissed my cheek.
“I want a day like that too, but I think we should leave the cow part out,” Sam said.
“Oh no,” Connor and SarahKate chimed together. “You have to hit the cow.”