The pumpkin patch was almost bare. That was a good thing, actually. The three of us had waited weeks for all the people to pick their pumpkins–cars driving up, families pulling wagons, picking big pumpkins, orange, green and even white pumpkins. White pumpkins showed up this year in the patch. I couldn’t see wanting a white pumpkin but people were buying them up like hot cakes. Daycare buses rolled in and little kids who could hardly walk, stumbled around in the rows of pumpkins–day trips. Pickings were slim now and come evening, we could sneak out of our house, climb the fence and see what pumpkins were left for us–the poor kids next door to the pumpkin farm.
It was hard to hold Sammie back, she was so excited about getting a pumpkin to carve.
“Shh, Sammie, keep quiet or we won’t get a pumpkin,” Linwood told her. He was the oldest, fourteen years old and being the oldest he always carved the pumpkins. This year, I could help, I was ten and Linwood said I could use a knife, if I was real careful. I grabbed a hold of Sammie’s hand and pulled her back from the fence.
“You hush up Sammie, now or I’ll bop you one good,” I whispered.
Linwood looked at me real hard like and so I told Sammie I was sorry. She is only five and she can’t help it, I reckon–being excited. Linwood lifted her over the fence and then we jumped it. It was barbed wire, so you had to be careful. Jerry, a friend of mine in school had put his eye out on a barbed wire fence. His bad eye was sort of a smokey color and kind of dead looking. He didn’t seem to mind. He could see okay, he said. But even so, it’s best to be careful when it comes to barbed wire fences.
It was getting dark and Linwood and I switched on our pen lights. Linwood pulled out another pin light from his jeans pocket, turned it on and handed it to Sammie.
“Shine this on the ground, Sammie. Don’t shine it on me or Dale, ya hear? We don’t want old man Davis catching us out here. Even though he’s only got mostly rotten pumpkins left–he’d be hard pressed to give one of ‘em away. He wouldn’t give his own mama a glass of water if she was dying of thirst.”
Sammie nodded and whispered, “okay”.
She’d do exactly as Linwood said. She always did. It was me she wouldn’t listen a lick to, no matter what. She can be hard headed if she wants to.
We wandered around on the edges of the field and found four pumpkins that were not all busted up or rotten. Linwood put them in a old pillow case and we headed back to the fence when we saw the tractor lights flicker on. Linwood handed me the pillow case.
“Run quick, Dale. Put this sack under that bush over there and high tail it back to the fence. You wait for me there, don’t let Sammie climb over it or under it. Just wait. I’ll be along in a minute.”
So I did. I grabbed a hold of Sammie’s hand and for once she minded me and we ran to the line of bushes that bordered the field. I stuck the sack of pumpkins under one of them and spread some leaves over them. Then we went to the place in the fence where we’d come over and waited. We sat down and both of us were real still. Sammie was still holding her light so I took it from her and turned it off. I put it in my pocket. She was about to whine about that but I just gave her one of those looks like Linwood uses and she shut her mouth and got still
I could see the tractor coming, straight up the field and its lights shining on Linwood. He just stood there facing the tractor until it stopped right in front of him.
“Who’s out there?” old man Davis called out.
Linwood put his hand up to his eyes so he could see and he yelled back.
“It’s just me, Linwood Sprouse from next door, Mr. Davis.”
“What ya doin out here in the dark, in my field?”
“I’m looking for our cat, she’s done gone off and she’s got herself a litter of kittens that needs feeding, so I’m out looking for her,” Linwood said.
“Humph, you sure you ain’t out here stealing pumpkins?” Mr. Davis yelled over the sound of the tractor engine..
“No sir. I ain’t got no use for pumpkins. And by the looks of it, you ain’t got no pumpkins worth stealing out here in this field,” Linwood said.
“Don’t get sassy with me boy. Just get on home. Ain’t no cat around here. And you stay out of my field, ya hear.”
“Alright, I’m going. But if you see my cat, can you…”
“Get, I said,” Mr. Davis yelled. He revved up the engine and moved the tractor a little closer like he was fixing to run over Linwood.
Linwood turned and walked away–slow. He didn’t look scared or nothing. Old man Davis watched him for a while and then turned the tractor around and headed back to his house. When Linwood reached us he grinned real big.
“Where those pumpkins?” he asked.
“Over yonder,” I pointed.
“Well leave ‘em for now. We’ll get ‘em later. Let’s get outta here.”
It was too dark to be jumping over the fence, so Linwood held up the barb wire making a space for us to crawl through. And then I held it for him and he crawled through. We headed for home. We didn’t need no light to find our way, across the field to our house. We could get home with our eyes closed.
When we got to the porch, Sammie stopped dead and wouldn’t go up the steps.
“What’s wrong with you?” I asked her. She just put her hands on her hips and stamped her foot.
Linwood stooped down in front of her. What’s wrong Sammie?” he asked real nice.
“I thought we was gonna carve jack-o-lanterns,” she said.
“We will, but not tonight. We’ll go back tomorrow and get the pumpkins from under the bush–then we’ll carve them up. Okay?” he smiled at her.
“Okay, I guess.” she said and walked up the steps. “Can I have the flashlight, Linwood?”
“Sure, Sammie.” Linwood got the light out of his pocket and switched it on. “Here ya go. Whatcha need the flashlight for? We’re going in the house, now.”
“I’m gonna look for the kittens,” she said and started shining the light under the porch chairs and Mama’s potted plants.
“What kittens?” Linwood asked.
“The ones the mama cat needs to feed.”
Linwood laughed and then when he saw the look on Sammie’s face–she thought he was making fun of her, he stopped short.
“Sorry Sammie, that’s just a little white lie, I told old man Davis so he wouldn’t think we was out there stealing–I mean getting some of his pumpkins. There ain’t any kittens or mama cat.”
“Oh,” Sammie said. I could tell she was disappointed but she didn’t cry. She only cries when she is mad. She’s that way. You don’t want her to get mad enough to cry, I tell you. It’s something fierce and you better just clear out of her way.
She handed Linwood the flashlight and we went on in the house and had our dinner. Mama had made us stew in the crock pot. It’d be a couple hours before she’d be home from work at the factory. Mama works in shipping, so sometimes she has to stay late–paperwork and stuff. Linwood gave me a hard time about doing my homework but I did it so we could watch T.V.. It won’t nothing but a dumb old sheet of arithmetic–multiplying. Linwood tore out a page from Sammie’s exercise book and had her sit down with her crayons and do homework, too. It wasn’t real homework–preschool don’t have homework. But she likes to pretend. I don’t get it. Homework will be coming soon enough–ain’t no need in pushing it.
When Mama got home, she asked us about school and checked our homework. Sammie almost let the cat out of the bag about being in old man Davis’s pumpkin patch. But then she yammered on about wanting some kittens. She wanted to know what a white-lie is and Mama looked at us boys real suspicious like. We don’t usually keep stuff from Mama but we really wanted those pumpkins and besides she’d find out soon enough when she came home and see the porch all lit up with jack-o-lanterns. Course we’d have fess up and Linwood would do what he called “out logic” her. He was real good at “debating”, he said. You just have to do it nice.
~ ~ ~
The next day at school, I didn’t think 3 o’clock would ever roll around. When I got off the school bus I ran lickety-split up the driveway. Linwood was already home and was sitting on the porch steps waiting for me–Sammie too. Mrs. Perkins, who lived next door, had brought her home from preschool. We was suppose to watch her ‘til Mama got home. They had a big shipment going out and she be late getting home–which was fine with me ‘cause tonight was pumpkin carving night.
“Alrighty, let’s go get ourselves some pumpkins,” Linwood said.
“Don’t we have to wait ‘til dark?” I asked.
“Nah, not with this fog rolling in,” Linwood said.
Sure enough, it was getting foggy–especially over at old man Davis’s. Linwood said it was something about there being no wind and the air cooling down and something about the dew point–whatever that is. So we took off, across the field and crawled through the fence. Linwood asked me where I’d stashed the pumpkins and so I looked around and pointed out a the row of bushes. Course now they looked different, not being pitch black night. We hunted around a while and before long, Sammie starts calling us and jumping and down. “Here, it is, I found it.” She was tugging on a dirty looking sack.
Me and LInwood ran over to her and we all pulled at the sack. We must of been pulling harder than we thought ‘cause the sack ripped open and out spilled a bunch of plastic bags. “This ain’t our pumpkins,” Sammie said and ran over to the next bush and started digging around in the leaves. Linwood picked up one of the plastic bags and tore open the edge of it. When we saw what was inside, we both just looked at it with our mouths wide open–cause it was a sack full of money–I mean a sack FULL. I reckoned there must a been a million dollars, maybe two in that sack.
Then we heard Sammie calling us. She’d found the sack of pumpkins; so Linwood sent me over to help her, which I did, all the while thinking about all that money. Yippee, we weren’t gonna be the poor kids anymore, no sirree. First thing I was gonna get was one of them Magna Throttle BMX bikes and then one of them remote control off-road, wall-climbing cars, no doubt about it.
Next thing you know, we was high tailing out of that field with two sacks of treasure. When we got home we spread out the pumpkins on newspaper on the kitchen table. Then Linwood and me took the sack of money down to the cellar and put it in behind the Christmas decorations. Linwood said we shouldn’t tell Sammie what was in the bag and ‘course I knew exactly why–she’s a blabbermouth–and Linwood said we’d need to just keep it in a safe place ‘til we figured out what to do.
“Ain’t we gonna tell Mama?” I asked Linwood?
“Yep, of course, but not right now. We have to explain where we got the pumpkins first–then later on tell her about this here,” he said poingtin in the direction of the Christmas decorations. “Just hold your horses on this and don’t you tell a soul about it. You hear me?”
I promised and then we went back upstairs and carved ourselves the scariest pumpkins you ever saw. When Mama got home she gave us the third-degree on the pumpkins and how we got them. Linwood explained that old man Davis’s pumpkin patch had petered out and these was just some he’d tossed aside that nobody in their right mind would buy. Of course he didn’t say old man Davis, he said: ‘Mr. Davis’ and Mama must of thought that was a good reason and let it go. Sammie almost blew it when she got to talking about the kittens again and wanting to go find them in the pumpkin patch. But me and Linwood just looked at her like she was talking crazy. She shut up when Linwood got out the candles to put in the jack-o-lanterns. We put ‘em on the porch and it was a sight–the best pumpkins we’d ever done.
~ ~ ~
In two days, it would be Halloween. Mama was said she’d drive us to town and we’d go trick-or-treating in the mall. You can’t go trick-or-treating where we live cause you’d walk all night long from house to house and bring home ten pieces of candy.
We were planning our costumes. Sammie wanted to be a fairy and that was pretty easy. The Dollar Store had those wing things and crowns and wands–stuff like that but for me there won’t much to pick from at the Dollar Store. For once I’d like to be spider-man or a superhero and get a real costume from Walmart. Linwood said I should wear his old pirate costume but that’s kind of dumb looking. Linwood said it don’t matter if it’s dumb or not. People’ll give you candy just so long as you had some kind of costume and that’s the main thing. That’s when I blew a gasket.
“We got us a million dollars–maybe two million–down there in the cellar. I’m gonna go get some of it and buy myself a costume from Walmart,” I told him.
“Now you listen hear, Dean. You can’t go getting that money and spending it,” Linwood said.
“Why not? It’s ours. It was just laying out there in the field for I don’t know how long,” I said.
“It ain’t ours. It belongs to old man Davis and we took it.” Linwood looked kinda worried.
“If it’s old man Davis’s, what’s he doing keepin it in a dirty sack out in his field? If it was my money, I’d put it somewhere safe in the house.”
Linwood thought about that for a while. Then he said, “Yep, me too. It’s probably somebody else’s money they hid in a field, a hundred years ago and forgot where they put it. If old man Davis had that kind of money he wouldn’t be living out here and running a pumpkin farm. So I’d say it’s not his and he didn’t even know it was there.”
“Well then, it’s our money. Finders keepers, losers weepers, is what Dad use to say.” I said.
Linwood looked at me kind of strange. “Don’t let Mama hear you say that. She’d go on about us taking up Dad’s bad habits. Best leave Dad out of this argument.”
Then he sat there for a while thinking. Finally he said, “ What we’ll do is take a little of the money and get you a costume–this one time.”
So we did. And that turned out to be a big mistake.
~ ~ ~
After school the next day, we stayed in town. Linwood picked up Sammie and we walked over to Walmart. I got the spider man costume and Sammie got the Disney Frozen fairy princess costume. She wanted to put it on in the store but Linwood explained we had to buy it first and besides she didn’t want to squash the wings under her coat. We put our stuff on the belt at the register and the lady scanned them and told Sammie she was going to make a very pretty princess. Of course Sammie had to correct her and tell her it was not just any princess but “Frozen”. The lady laughed and corrected herself. Sammie could do that–be sassy and people just thought she was cute. When Linwood handed the lady the hundred-dollar-bill, she looked at it and then at us.
“This is a lot of money for you to be carrying around. Where did you get it?” she asked.
“Is there something wrong?” Linwood asked. I felt my mouth go dry and swallowed real hard.
“Well, like I said, this is a lot of money for someone your age to be carrying around. I’m just wondering how you came to get it?”
“My mama gave it to me to buy my brother and sister their Halloween costumes. She forgot to get them when she was in here yesterday getting groceries. She didn’t have any change so she gave this to me. I’m to bring the rest back to her.”
“Hmmm,” the lady said. “Aren’t you Amanda Sprouse’s boy?”
“Yes mam,” Linwood said.
“Hmm,” She said. “I know your Mama from the PTA over at the elementary school. I thought I recognized you all.”
Then she hit some buttons on the cash register and got out the change and handed it to Linwood. “Tell your mama that Mrs. Holmes said hello. And you be sure and give this back to your her when you get home.”
“I will,” said Linwood and we got ourselves out of there quick as we could.
We started walking home but luckily Mrs. Perkins was just coming out of the Walmart and saw us and gave us a ride to our house. As soon as we got in the door, Sammie put on her costume and pranced around the house. Of course, I needed to try on my Spider man suit, too.
“Well don’t you two look something!”
Mama was standing in the door. “Those are some fine looking costumes.” Then she went to the kitchen and started unloading the bag of groceries she had brought in. She called out, “You guys need to get to doing your homework if you haven’t done it already.”
Linwood and I looked at each other. It won’t like Mama to not ask us questions. We heard her in the kitchen, opening and closing the refrigerator. We got out our books and sat down at the dining room table. After a while, we heard the oven door open and close.
“Dinner will be ready in about 20 minutes,” Mama said and sat down at the table with us. She tapped her fingers on the table, you know, kind of rolling them, tap, tap, tap. Both me and Linwood looked up at her. She was staring at us. I had the feeling that “you know what” was about to hit the fan.
“Mrs. Holmes called me today,” Mama said.
Me and Linwood looked at each other but we didn’t say a word. Linwood went back to doing his homework. So I did, too.
“She said you all were shopping at the Walmart today, after school.”
We didn’t say nothing–just kept our heads down like we was concentrating on our homework. But I was starting to sweat in my Spider man costume.
“I don’t remember saying you guys could go to Walmart after school. So I was a little worried. How did y’all get home?” Mama asked.
“Mrs. Perkins gave us a ride home,” Linwood said.
“Oh, that’s good. I wouldn’t want y’all walking home on the road and getting hit by a car. So, did you arrange that ahead of time with Mrs. Perkins to pick you up?”
“No mam,” Linwood said. “She was shopping at the Walmart and gave us a ride.”
“Hmm,” Mama said. And she started that tapping on the table again. “Well I guess that was lucky, huh? I want to ask you something and it’s important–so look at me.”
We laid down our pencils and looked at Mama. Her eyebrows were raised up, pointy like–her no messing around look.
“Is this the first time you have gone over to Walmart after school or have you done this before?”
“It’s the first time,” Linwood said. “And I made sure that Dale and Sammie stayed with me. It won’t nothing at all.
“Hmm,” Mama said
“The other kids do it all the time. Lots of parents park over there in the Walmart lot and wait for their kids to walk over from school.”
“Is that right? They can’t be bothered to drive over to the school parking lot to pick up their kids–just let them cross that busy street?” Mama frowned and nobody said nothing.
“I don’t want you all doing that again. You hear? If you need to go shopping, you have to let me know and we’ll make arrangements so you will be safe. And then there’s Sammie. She’s too little to be tagging along. Do you understand?”
“Yes mam,” we both said. Linwood looked at me and frowned. I was just trying to help out. I figured we was getting off pretty easy and I was relieved.
But then Mama said, “There’s another thing. About your costumes. Mrs. Holmes told me that I sure had a very responsible son–so responsible that I could give him a hundred dollar bill to go buy costumes and be certain that he’d bring home the change–not like other boys his age who would spend it all and not think a jot about it. You boys got anything to say about that?”
We didn’t say nothing. We just sat there.
“Linwood, I’m going to ask you where you got a hundred dollar bill and I want you to tell me the truth.” Mama looked real worried. “Did you steal it from somewhere?”
“No mam,” Linwood said pretty loud. “I found it. We found it.”
“Where?” Mama asked.
“Over in old man Davis’s pumpkin patch,” I said. “We found a bag chucked full of money.” I just couldn’t hold back no more. I told her how we was looking for our pumpkins and found the bag and how somebody must have left it there and forgot about it or couldn’t find it and how it couldn’t be old man Davis’s ‘cause if it was, why would he keep it under a bush in the pumpkin patch where anybody, like us, could come along and find it? And how I was wanting a spider man costume and Linwood let me have it–just that one little thing–even though we had two million dollars to spend if we wanted to. And couldn’t we keep the money?
Then Mama asked a lot more questions and Linwood explained everything. We went down to the cellar and looked at the bag of money. I wanted to count the money but Mama said we was not to touch the bags. It might be stolen from a bank and the robber’s fingerprints might be on it, in which case we didn’t want our fingerprints mixed in with it. That’s when I knew we wasn’t gonna get to keep the money and I can tell you I ain’t never been so mad. It just didn’t seem fair. Anyway, we left the money in the cellar.
We went back upstairs. The oven buzzer was going off and our dinner was a little crispy. But mac-n-cheese is good any kind of way. When we were done eating, Mama had us sit with her a while there at the table. She sent Sammie off to play in the living room.
“Linwood, I want you to know something. This is real important. Dale, this goes for you too,” she said.
“Uh-oh,” I thought, “Here it comes. We are done for.”
But Mama looked at us kind of sad like. “If you want a pumpkin to carve for Halloween, you don’t have to steal it. We can afford a pumpkin or two. And if you want store-bought costumes, we can manage that, too. But you gotta ask for it. Linwood, you just can’t assume we can’t afford anything. We can. It’s just a matter of budgeting and managing our money.”
Linwood started to say something but Mama stopped him. “Don’t tell me tales about getting the worse pumpkins that Mr. Davis tossed out. I should have said something yesterday–I don’t know why I didn’t. But I’m telling you now, we might be struggling but like my Daddy used to say, ‘If there’s a will, there’s a way.’ and I’m pretty sure I can find a way. We might not be able to buy brand new costumes, but the thrift store has those sorts of things all the time–things other children wore once and out grew. And there’s nothing shameful in a used costume–same as there’s nothing shameful in buying a used car. Nobody thinks a hoot about driving around in a used car, now do they?”
Linwood said, “No mam.”
Then she looked directly at Linwood. “Now here’s the most important thing I want you to understand, Linwood. You are not a grown-up yet. And you are not responsible for taking care of your brother and sister. I’m the parent here, not you.”
“But, I’m just trying to help ya, Mama,” Linwood said and he looked like his feelings were hurt.
“I know that Linwood. And I appreciate that, but you can’t be taking on the worry of the grown-up world just yet. You’re just a boy and you should be thinking and doing things that boys your age do–not thinking we can’t afford things and figuring out ways to get them. Sammie and Dale need to come to me and tell me what they need. Do you hear me Dale?”
Mama looked right at me. “Yes, mam, I hear ya.”
And you too, Linwood. I need you to come to me and tell me what you need. And not just need but what you want. Ya hear me? Don’t you be afraid to ask.
“I don’t need anything Mama. I’m fine,” he said. I couldn’t believe my ears. He sure as heck needed things–like one of them iPads or a cell phone like the other kids had. Even kids in my grade had themselves a cell phone. But Linwood just sat there nodding his head. But I reckon he didn’t think asking would help him ‘cause ain’t no way Mama was gonna be able to afford an iPad and they don’t have them at the thrift store.
“Mama, what about the money in the cellar. It’s ours, ain’t it?” I asked. “If it’s ours to keep, we wouldn’t have to be poor no more. And we could buy ourselves a brand new car, not a used one. And there won’t be no reason for us to go to the thrift store either.”
Mama looked at me and all she said was “You all just go get ready for bed. I’ll think on this and figure out what to do in the morning.”
That night I took off my costume and folded it up real nice and put it on the dresser. I sure did like it and was hoping we’d get to keep the money. But I didn’t hold on to much hope cause Mama, she liked to do “the right thing”.
~ ~ ~
The next morning we had Rice Krispies for breakfast, not the usual oatmeal. Mama said she was in a hurry and not to pull in shenanigans after school, to come home straight away. She was getting off early and taking us trick-or-treating. Linwood and I didn’t say a thing about the money ‘cause the way Mama was rushing around, we knew better.
Then we heard someone on our porch and a knock on the door. I ran to take a look and old man Davis was out there frowning and scaping his boots on the floor boards, getting red mud everywhere. I opened the door.
“Where’s your Mama?”
Mama was right there beside me before I could say a word.
“These here pumpkins you people have carved up and are out here on your porch were stolen from my patch by your two boys,” he said without so much as a hello or nothing.
Mama was real polite and asked him in but he said no, he just wanted money for the pumpkins Mama was in kind of a fix. She didn’t want to have her boys called thieves and yet we had, for sure, stole the pumpkins. After some talk back and forth, ole man Davis got real mean and said he was gonna report us to the police. Mama told him to leave and she took five dollars out of her purse and handed it to him. He turned it over a couple of times and then stuck it in his pocket. He spit on the porch and left.
“He’s a mean old man,” she said as she shut the door.
~ ~ ~
When we got home from school the jack-o-lanterns were lit up and Sammie was on the porch, dressed in her Frozen Fairy Princess costume. I ran in and put on my Spider man costume and we took off to the mall. Mama got us dinner at the food court–which she had never done before. There was a parade of really cool costumes and people on skateboards and scooters–laser lights and music. Afterwards Linwood went to the haunted house and Mama gave him money for the arcade. Then she took us store-to-store, trick-or-treating. They were giving out candy bars, the good kind–no dumb stuff like pretzels or raisins. We stayed ‘til the mall closed. It was the best Halloween we’d ever been to.
When we went out to the parking lot to get in the car, it was really cold and the wind was blowing. Sammie fell asleep right away. Mama let me eat three pieces of my candy; ‘course I ate a few more. We drove passed the school, passed the traffic light and the Walmart and out on the road to our house. When we got to our house, Mama didn’t pull in the driveway. She slowed the car and stopped it in the middle of the road. You could see the jack-o-lanterns flickering on the porch.
“You did a real nice job on those jack-o-lanterns, Linwood,” she said.
“Dale carved the one on the right,” Linwood said and looked back at me.
“It’s real nice, Dale,” Mama said. “The one in the middle is a little skewed. It’s cute in a way.”
“That one is Sammie’s. She drew the picture and Linwood cut it out,” I said.
“Hm,” Mama said.
The car engine was running real soft like and it was warm and comfy in the car. We just sat there watching the jack-o-lanterns flicker. The candles were about burn down to the nub and finally they went out. It was pitch black.
Mama pressed on the gas and we drove off–passed our house, then on passed the pumpkin patch, then passed old man Davis’s house. And she kept on driving.
It was real quiet. Nobody said nothing. When we was about to get on the interstate, Mama looked at Linwood and then at me, in the rear view mirror.
“Sometimes the universe hands you a gift.” she said. “And if that happens you accept it and say ‘thank you very much’. So that’s what we are doing. And in particular case, it’s exactly the right thing to do.”
Mama made the turn onto the interstate. ”And besides, I don’t take too kindly to anybody spitting on my porch.”
© Glenda Kotchish