I don't hand-deliver my organic heirloom pumpkins to my neighbors anymore.
That first year our garden was huge; the soil had been prepped by a long-lost goat pen in that area of the yard. I had 31 massive pumpkins that year. No fertilizers used at all, heirloom seeds. I was bursting with pride about it, too. I was proud because where I come from, that's a really big thing.
I grew up in backwoods Maine in the 60's, when the "store-bought" food was mostly limp, anemic and tasteless. You only bought food at the store as a last resort. You gardened hard and your neighbors did, too. Through a complex and delicately balanced barter system we kept each other fed through the long, vicious winters. It was a joy to knock on a neighbor's door (at a decent interval after dinner time) with a basket of potatoes or strawberries or greens and beg them to help you, because "We've got to much of this and I can't put it all up," This was always met with broad smiles and jokes ("Can't put it all up, eh? What's wrong with you?"), and invitation inside for a visit, and usually within days afterward a visit from that neighbor with the one thing you couldn't seem to grow that year. This system was based primarily on graciousness, but it was practical. Food didn't get wasted and we almost always had a nice variety. Home grown food was a connection that transcended petty disagreements. It was survival, it was our way to nourish each other, and it was a source of thousands of deep conversations, elaborate private jokes, and a way to check in on a family with a new baby or an elder without violating their pride. It made us a town.
I walked down my street, orange trophy in hand, ready to make a deeper connection to my neighbors. I had no expectation of reciprocation-just a friendly exchange. It would be a start, maybe.
A knock on the door brought the man of the house, who clearly was annoyed at the disturbance. I said I lived up the street. His expression changed to alarm. Was there a problem? No, I said, I just grew a lot of pumpkins this year and thought you might like one for Halloween.
He gaped for a second, then gave a laughing snort. He took the pumpkin, puzzling over it. Then he shrugged, said, "Well, OK," and closed the door.
Well, that was just one neighbor.
I went another door down with a carefully grown prize.
The door was answered by a teenage boy, breathless. "Why?" he said, when I made the offer. I explained that it was a gift.
"Huh," he said, took the pumpkin and closed the door.
So I left off for a few years.
Last year I was walking down my street when I ran into the teenage boy, now towering over me and with a brand new baritone and a brand new vocabulary.
"Hey, remember when you brought us a pumpkin?" he said.
"Well, I'm trying corn this year. Ya know. We need to stop depending on Big Ag,"
"Wow!" I said, "Well, I'll bring you one!"
"Cool. And I'll try to get you some corn,"
That October I knocked on his door. The younger brother answered, breathless.
"Your brother told me I should bring a pumpkin by," I said.
"Why?" he demanded. "He's in Germany,"
I save pumpkins for friends who are thrilled to get them. And I harbor no ill will to my neighbors. But when I cut the lovingly tended fruit from the vine I have a moment of hollowness, of loneliness.
It would be nice to have one neighbor who cared.