By Jim O'Leary
An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.
Oct. 27, 2001
There are two towns in Texas named for my favorite squash: Punkin Center, Texas, just south of Lubbock, and Pumkin, Texas, just north of Houston.
Both cities are surrounded by fields of pumpkins. Huge trucks leave these towns every day, filled with pumpkins for distribution nationwide.
The people who settled these towns didn't bother with the spelling, but they did know a pumpkin when they saw one, and they did know what a cash crop was.
How many of these wonderful pumpkins, with their rich, buttery, nutty flavor will ever be eaten?
Five percent. Yes folks, five percent.
Remember how your mother used to chide you at the table for playing with your food? Well, that's what we do with pumpkins.
Our casual affluence lets us play with our food. We make jack
o' lanterns out of food. That's how we play with our food.
Out of the 60,000 acres planted in pumpkins, only 5,000 acres are intended for the table. The rest end up for Halloween, either as jack o' lanterns, or else just sitting there looking pretty.
Now we spend almost as much on Halloween decorations as we do on Christmas decorations. Our next door neighbor had his Halloween stuff up in the middle of September. His kids couldn't wait.
He has a front yard full of skeletons, ghosts . . . and pumpkins.
Now there are also lights for Halloween: orange lights that say "Boo," orange lights that are shaped like pumpkins, strings of lights.
Our next door neighbors on the other side of us are proud of their Halloween lights.
They are all college girls from the country who chip in on the rent while they attend a college two miles from here. I expect another noisy party on Halloween, which I don't mind, but I do wish they would mow their lawn once in a while.
Back to the subject of pumpkins.
The pumpkin, along with the tomato, corn, coffee, chocolate, peanuts, and tobacco, was one of the New World's novelties.
Columbus made a voyage with unintended consequences in more ways than one. He discovered a whole new world of things to eat . . . and smoke.
The pumpkin has a more ancient lineage than any of the other culinary discoveries Columbus made. Archeologists have unearthed fossilized pumpkin shells and seeds in the Ocampo burial caves of Mexico dating back to 7,000 BC.
The Patuxent Indians introduced the pilgrims to the pumpkin. The pumpkin then was steamed, fried, stewed, baked, and even fermented for ale.
It could appear at any time - breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In hard times, it substituted for flour, molasses, and sugar. In good times, its hollow was filled with milk and sugar and roasted whole in the fire for dessert.
Now the noble pumpkin has ended up in a can. Libby's produces 80 percent of the canned product. I miss fresh pumpkins, but even so, if there is anything better than Libby's for pumpkin pie, I would like to know what it is.
Just add eggs and evaporated milk. Put it into a pie shell and bake at 425 degrees. And, don't forget the Dream Whip.
Waverly's own Dan Vaughan sent this to me on the Internet:
"Recently a lady was asked by a co-worker why she was so religious.
"She said, 'Well, it's like being a pumpkin - God picks you from the patch, brings you in, washes all the dirt off you, and scoops out all the yucky stuff. He removes the seeds of doubt, hate, and greed. Then He carves you a new smiling face and puts His light inside of you to shine for all the world to see.'"
The great pumpkin, hollowed or hallowed
"The sun is so large that, if it were hollow, it could contain more than one million worlds of the size of our earth. There are stars in space so large that they could easily hold 500 million suns of the size of ours."
- Morris Mandell
Charles Schulz may have been on to something. Who would have dreamed that his Great Pumpkin would become another icon of American lore, along with the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus?
And tricks or treats?
Only an old grouch could long for the good old days when Halloween was synonymous with vandalism, the way it was in my time.
Tipping over outdoor toilets was our favorite way to celebrate Halloween.
The O'Learys had a backyard toilet in Waverly that got tipped over one year, which we all found to be very unfunny, especially my brothers Myles, John, and Paul who had to dig a new hole in the ground and fill in the old one.
One Halloween, the toilet behind the Waverly Presbyterian Church was overturned. It was filled with glass storm windows, which all shattered when the outhouse smashed into the ground.
On another Halloween, a farmer on the outskirts of Waverly was going to spend the night in his toilet, so as to protect it from getting tipped over again. It seemed to happen to him every year, because he lived so close to town.
On this particular Halloween, it was toppled from behind, so he had no chance to escape. He had to spend one long, miserable night trapped, and with no place to sit down. Ask him if he thought it was funny.
Now parents come around to our houses with their incredibly cute children in the most creative of costumes. The parents invariably remind them to "say thank you now!" A distinct improvement over the old days, when there were more tricks than treats.
Speaking of things unfunny back in the good old days, I have found that the whoopee cushion is now out of fashion. It is impossible to buy one at any garage sales.
Could it be that Whoopee John Wilfahrt was called "Whoopee John" because of the whoopee cushion? How that poor man must have suffered!
I believe he was married to the pretty lady who played the piano in his wondrous band from New Ulm. I used to check coats at the dances in the Waverly Village Hall, so that's how I know such things.
Back to 1933
Marks McDonnell noted Halloween only briefly in his Oct. 27 issue for 1933.
"A Halloween party was thrown on Monday for the children of St. Mary's School in the KC Hall by St. Mary's PTA."
In the same issue, Marks tried this one in his "Do You Know" column:
". . . that we heard this morning that Jack Murphy beat Jimmie Fitzpatrick up? Jack got up at eight and Jimmie crawled out at a quarter to nine."
In "Ye Towne Gossip," among many other items, there were these two:
"Mr. and Mrs. Ray Daigle motored to Plato on Tuesday."
"A.S. Mellon isn't feeling as well as he could be at this time."
There is a mystery here: Did Marks have something against Mr. Mellon, the mayor? He mentioned Mr. Mellon's health in just about every issue.
Mr. Mellon lived well into his 80s, and always seemed healthy enough to me. One week Marks noted that Dr. Roholt had driven Mr. A. S. Mellon to Rochester for a checkup.
Side note: It was not unusual for Dr. Roholt to drive people to specialists. Once he drove me into the cities to get my eyes examined, and after I had the drops in my eyes, walking out into the sunlight, I got separated from Dr. Roholt, who called the police to help find me.
Before that, Dr. Roholt and I went to a Marx Brothers movie, which I didn't enjoy at all because I couldn't see the screen.
The police eventually found me enjoying a blue plate special, on the house, at the Gay Nineties on Hennepin.
A kindly waitress had reported "little boy lost." This made the Waverly Star, but I can't find the issue it was in.
Marks also put it in the time I got locked in Franske's Grocery Store for the night because I was trying on shoes in the back when they locked up.
After I finally thought to use the phone, Zip Zeller came to unlock the door since he was working for the Franskes at the time.
But not before he gathered a rowdy crowd to look through the window at me begging to be freed. Thanks a lot, Zip!
Quotes for the week
From a billboard on Interstate Highway 37 heading into San Antonio, Texas from the south:
"May the road you are on get you to my place."
(I think it means we should take the high road.)
From a sign in front of the the First United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi:
"God so loved the world that He didn't send us a committee."
Until next week then.
Meanwhile, send me smiles, advice, pumpkins, kittens, puppies . . . money.
Anything you would like, but news, most of all, would be welcome.
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