The angel of death carries a scythe, a trite cartoon figure in these times--the media will carry on long after you rot. If you did not believe you were eternal, you might be more careful. And if you were more careful, you might be more judicious. And if too many of us are too judicious, the economy collapses. So keep believing you are eternal.
My father died August 3rd. I held his hand when his heart stopped once, then twice, then forever. I'm not feeling so eternal these days.
My father flew planes. He grew up in the slums of Pittsburgh. He was poor. He was tough. The United States military has money to burn. If you are a slum child, a farm boy, or a prince, you are welcome to try to fly for the United States Marine Corps. Few are good enough. He was good enough.
On the day he died, one of his best friends, Bob Nixon, dropped by the hospice, as breezy as a summer visit can be. My father had just fallen asleep. My father never woke up. Still, I had a lot to learn about my father from Bob, and he had a lot to learn from me.
The presence of a dying man in a room does not make you more eloquent; there is a matter-of-factness to life that resists recognizing death, even in the last few hours of a good friend or a father. You may be lucky enough not to have learned this yet.
Bob Nixon grows champion pumpkins, pumpkins in the hundreds of pounds. I occasionally grow ordinary pumpkins. This year I planted Howden pumpkins, an heirloom variety. Howdens are the kind of pumpkins that define Hallowe'en jack-o-lanterns. Bright orange, deeply lined, stiff stem. Pumpkins have male and female flowers. The male flowers come first (life is life after all), the female flowers later. It was already August, and my vine made only male flowers.
Bob commiserated with me--too late for any decent fruit this year. It happens. My Dad's breathing became increasingly irregular, with occasional gasps. We still talked of pumpkins. Bob left. A few hours later, Dad died.
I came home August 4th. A tiny green ball of a pumpkin sat on the vine. The vines were starting to lose leaves to mildew. It has been a wet, cool summer in the eastern United States. A good year for cucumbers usually means a bad year for pumpkins.
Today I harvested a 26 1/2 pound heirloom Howden pumpkin, and a somewhat smaller kin. I pulled the vines up. A careful gardener would throw away the vines--they are sick. I am not a careful gardener. The vines sit in their own compost pile.
September air in New Jersey is crisp, the shadows sharp. I walked about 5 miles today with my lover. We have over 90 years of life between us. We spent a few moments trying to remember a movie.
You know, the one with Cher and what's-his-name...the title had "moon" in it....
Moon River...Cosmo's Moon?....
Yeah, it had Cosmo's moon, but that wasn't the name....
Ah, yes, the actor was in "Face Off" with Travolta, but I count on you to remember names....
I don't remember....wait...Nicholas Cage.
(And then I remembered the film--Moonstruck)
Getting older is scary--mildew collects, things fall apart. I have had more September days like this in my past than I can expect in my future. Still, as I ripped down the pumpkin vine today, it still had bright orange flowers, ignoring the winter that promises death. On our walk today Leslie and I saw ducks cavorting as though it were spring--any ducklings conceived today are doomed tomorrow--but that is not today's concern.
I'm going to take a picture of my pumpkin. I'm going to mail the picture to Bob Nixon. His pumpkins dwarf mine, but he'll like the picture. For a Howden, it's a monster--no one expects them to weigh more than 25 pounds, especially one conceived in August.
And in the comfort of a western myth, I can imagine my Dad grinning like a jack-o-lantern; and when I carve my Howden, the left eye will be slightly droopy. If you see my Dad's picture, you'll know why.
Thanks to yclept for her advice on when to pick the fruit of my mildewy plant.
Thanks to my father whose faith in life superceded his faith in God--yes, I believe he had something to do with this pumpkin; what's left of him rests in a wildflower garden in Vermont.