When I was 10, my best friend's mother bought him the biggest pumpkin I've ever seen. Up until then, I'd never glimpsed a pumpkin much bigger than a basketball, and - believe me - I'd made my own mother stop at plenty of roadside stands.
I think this particular pumpkin must have grown in the Midwest, where two decades later I'd grow zucchini longer than my arms and thicker than my thighs, and tomatoes the size of cantaloupes. Back then, it never occurred to me (and there's no way of knowing for sure now), but I doubt that any New England soil, the tilling of which has built so many quaint stone walls, could have produced a gourd of such girth.
When she wheeled her Buick into the driveway, Mrs. B. waved to us frantically, and at first I thought she'd flattened a tire, for the whole rear end sagged to the ground. When the back wheels climbed the small lip of asphalt, the bumper scraped lightly against it. The pumpkin wasn't in the trunk, but strapped on top of it, and when we saw it in all its immensity, the only thing we could do was laugh.
"Is it a pumpkin?" my brother Richard asked.
"It looks deformed," my brother Mike said. And indeed it did. Hardly orange at all, the skin of this giant was white with brown splotches and green bumps; the bottom of it was crusted with a dry ring of dirt, and the top of it was missing its stem.
"It was the biggest one they had!" Mrs. B. said with triumph. "I knew my David just had to have it."
Dave grinned sheepishly. Maybe he was a little embarrassed, but of course he was happy, too. What boy wouldn't want the biggest pumpkin in the world, no matter how unnatural it looked?
"How are we going to get it down?" I said. The previous weekend, I'd voiced a similar question in regard to a rather large cement block we'd discovered at the end of Vermont Avenue.
The challenge then hadn't been to lower the cement block, but to lift it off the ground, and after several attempts using all eight of our arms, one of us had run home for a "come-along" winch we'd found in the woods days before.
Using the winch, we managed to crank the block up on its side. But while basking in our glory, the winch slipped and the cement block grumbled back into its stubborn place and onto Dave's misplaced toe. So here we were again, calculating weight, distance, and our strength.
"What if we all take a side?" Dave said. But there was no leverage.
"What if we carve out the insides first, and then lower it onto the lawn?" Richard said. "That would reduce its weight by...." Mrs. B. shook her head. She obviously didn't want pumpkin innards all over her Buick.
"What if we roll it down a board?" Mike said, always the voice of reason.
By the time we'd rolled the pumpkin off the car, almost every kid in the neighborhood had gathered to watch. Our mother had called us twice for dinner, and it was starting to get dark. We helped Dave roll the pumpkin up to the front to his house, where it would spend the night, and then we said our goodbyes.
As we ate dinner, my brothers and I told our parents about the pumpkin. I could see that something was wrong with my mother. She was too quiet, forcing her smile. I figured she was a little angry that dinner had grown cold, so afterward I made sure to clear the table and help wash the dishes and put them away.
Just before bedtime, I went into the living room. My mother was reading beneath a lamp. I wanted to see if I could catch a last look at Dave's giant, but when I went to the window and pushed aside the curtain, I saw instead three pumpkins on the sill. They were deep orange, perfectly round, each with a curled stem. I chose one and carried it to my mother. I could see that, reflected in her glasses, it was the best pumpkin I'd ever held.