The Spirit of the Great Pumpkin

The Dyer County GPS sounded like the name of an expensive navigational system some Tennessean hooks up to his truck for deer huntin’ season. It actually stands for the Giant Pumpkin Society, an annual event that draws nation wide attention from pumpkin growers and pie enthusiasts each year. And it was what one local farmer by the name of Leon Hollerloud lived for each year.

The official weigh off of the giant pumpkins is the culmination of a weekend of events ranging from pumpkin carving and pie eating contests, the largest squash, and the most unusual vegetable. The latter award was almost eliminated last year after Tress Hootentown’s entry which was a cucumber shaped much like male genitalia. Mrs. Hootentown relished her ten dollar first prize, but a picture of the vegetable was not allowed in Monday’s newspaper.

The Grand Daddy of All was the first place title that went to the giant pumpkin weighing the most along with a five hundred dollar prize, and of course, the largest center picture on the front page of the newspaper the next morning. Bragging rights to multiple wins surpassed any monetary award or ribbon. Last year’s blue ribbon went to Dale Grillalot whose entry weighed in at 1,089 pounds. Dale also won the year prior with his 1,009 pound beauty.

On Friday evening before loading his own entry into the back of his truck, Leon Hollerloud drove by the Grillalot farm hoping to catch a glimpse of what could very well make Dale Grillalot a three time champion. He’d driven by the week prior eyeing a blue tarp staked tightly over half of Dale’s pumpkin patch, a task Leon practiced himself to keep the giant dry and protected, and out of sight. Leon also shoveled sand around the bottom of the pumpkin to prevent rot, and played an AM radio in the patch non-stop because he believed they grew better when listening to country music. All science aside, small town farmers stood by their almanacs and growing legends like the Bible.

Today, Leon noticed the plastic coverings had been removed and much of Dale’s pumpkin patch was empty. There was a large clear space in the middle filled with a bed of sand where Dale himself stood watching Leon drive by. With his hands on his hips like a kid playing king of the mountain, he waved to Leon with a triumphant smirk upon his face. Leon cowered in his truck like a peeping Tom, and sped away.

So what does one do with a thousand pound pumpkin after picking and parading it through the festival where every 4H kid and FFA boy drools over it with a Polaroid camera? If you placed in the top ten of the GPS, the real cash money comes from selling the seeds to those eager contestants who take the competition a bit too seriously. Leon had yet to break a four digit weigh-in, so he acquired just five seeds from last year’s third place winner, Truvie Bigash, at the price of one hundred and fifty dollars per seed. Truvie said she would sell them to Leon for just one hundred dollars each if he’d go out with her, maybe take her to dinner and a movie. He declined and wrote her a check for the seven hundred and fifty dollars.

The hefty price had hopefully paid off. With a linen tape measurer from his Grand Mammy’s old sewing kit, Leon measured the girth of the pumpkin which he believed had grown at least thirty-five pounds a day. It was his biggest yet. It would take at least an hour to load it onto his truck, but Leon still waited until sundown to avoid any possible peeping eyes from rivals.

Leon’s neighbor, Ray Stinkins, was a septic tank cleaner and owned his own bull dozer. He agreed to let Leon borrow it to use as a crane for raising and lowering his great pumpkin from the patch into his truck. Ray offered to help, but Leon refused. He was superstitious, and never allowed anyone else’s hands to touch his giant gourd before the contest.

With only the finest banded cables the local feed store could supply, Leon gently fashioned a hoist around the pumpkin after cutting its eight inch wide stem from the vine. He hooked it to a giant cable which was wrapped around the scoop of the bulldozer. With one slow pull, the pumpkin was raised about a foot off the ground. The cable creaked from the elephant-like weight of the pumpkin, and Leon quickly checked to make sure it was secure.

Then, Leon raised the pumpkin a bit more until it was higher than the side of the truck. Before moving it over and lowering it into the bed, he grabbed a flash light and crawled underneath. At five foot two, he only had to lower his head a bit to fit between the pumpkin and the ground. He would have to check the pumpkin for any rot in order to avoid being disqualified. He rubbed the underside of the pumpkin, wiping the sand away, and discovered he was in the clear. The pumpkin was cold to the touch, but there was not one single patch of decay. Leon smiled at his success and just knew it would be his picture on the cover of the newspaper in two days.

With a tug and a catch, the cable tightened and dropped the pumpkin about three inches, bumping Leon on the head. Leon looked over and thought he saw the wheels of the bulldozer rise off the ground an inch or two. He raced to get out from under the pumpkin, keen to hurry in lowering it into his truck before catastrophe struck. But he tripped over his shoe laces and fell face down in the sand. Before he could get out of the way, the cable snapped and a great orange curtain came crashing down on Leon’s face by the time he rolled over. A thump and a crack filled Leon’s ears, but he did not know if it was the shell of his giant pumpkin or his very own head.

Calamity also ended Dale Grillalot’s reign. Two days later, Truvie Bigash took home the first place prize weighing in at 1,110 pounds. The pumpkin weighed that. Not Truvie. Her photograph graced Monday’s front page, where Leon had once dreamed his name would be. Leon’s name made the paper that day too, but on page four where the obituaries were. His death was ruled a “bulldozer accident” as to not bring misfortune to the spirit of the GPS.

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