If the South followed the Chinese and dedicated the year, we would praise vegetables and this would be the year of the pumpkin. As I strolled my son past houses that have become as familiar to us as our clothing, I realized that somewhere, the sun was setting on a bare pumpkin patch. At home after home — mostly one-level ranches — pumpkins sat on steps, porches and on bales of hay trucked in especially for the honor. Even at houses where the garbage cans never leave the street or where the closest thing to a flower is patch of early winter rye, squat Cinderella pumpkins sit perched beside a painted wood scarecrow that holds a bunch of sunflowers. My husband and I took our son to a pumpkin patch outside Huntsville last weekend, the first below 80 degrees this fall, to find ourselves one of at least 200 families riding a train shaped like an ear of corn, posing in front of a round bale of hay painted like the Cookie Monster. We hollered with glee as we watched a woman shoot near rotten gourds into an open field with a pneumatic cannon.
Southerners have never needed an excuse to celebrate anything. Give us mud and a jeep and we give thanks for the earth. Give us a grill and a pig and we will claim we make the best barbecue in the state.
I have concluded that all this pumpkin joy arose from our arch enemy that we love to hate, but would leave us little to gripe about if she went away: the heat.
We are really just beside ourselves that summer did, in fact, end. Finally we can push our shorts and sundresses to the side of the closet and open an L.L. Bean catalog without utter jealousy of New Englanders. See, autumn is our secret here, because the contrast with summer is so stout that it feels and looks like God has opened his hand and shown us a glimpse of a quiet, content world bathed with a golden glow. If we are lucky will last until December.
The stack of pumpkins on my porch will not last that long, but perhaps that is the point.