“Can we get pumpkins yet?”
My mom must have answered this one hundred times when we were young. The moment the back-to-school dust settled, it became an omnipresent question. The new pencils were broken in. My September birthday had passed. Surely it must be time for Halloween. It felt like we waited an eternity for Indiana’s summer humidity to dissipate, the time between Labor Day and October dragging like the dog days they’re known to be.
And then, the blessed day would arrive! It was time to buy pumpkins!
Some years we’d make an event of it - going to the patch to find the perfect one, stocking up on candy corn and apples while we were at it. Other years we’d run to the local grocery store between soccer practices, grabbing the quick and easy pumpkins out front. My brother, Sam, always wanted the tall and skinny one, perhaps a nod to the thin, 6-foot-three man he’d become.
All five of us would carry our pumpkins on to the front porch when we got home, so proud of what we’d found. My mom would meet us there, armed with teeny, tiny carving knives and enough newspaper to wrap the entire porch.
My dad would cut holes in the top for us, making room for our little hands to dig out the insides. The goop! We’d call it. Inevitably, we’d tire halfway through, wondering if we still had to keep going. Is it clean enough yet? We’d ask, knowing full well we weren’t even close. Those babies had to whistle through the eye holes! Keep going! My mom would say.
At night, after showers and dinner, we’d all run out front as my parents lit the candles in each one. We’d stand there with wet hair, in our oversized t-shirts, admiring our glowing creations, proud that you couldn’t see a speck of goop through even the big mouth hole. It was the grand finale. Our hard work had paid off.
I thought about those moments on Sunday as I mowed our lawn. It was a normal weekend for us: cleaning the house, doing some yard work, drinking coffee, caring for McCoy. It struck me that I am going to mow our lawn, once or twice a week, forever. The task will never be done. Just like feeding McCoy, flossing my teeth and cleaning our house. These boomeranging practices - the ones you can check off on Monday, but inevitably return on Tuesday - are never going away. This is the maintenance life requires.
It can be tempting to wait for the grand finale moments; when all of the pumpkins are lit. But there is beauty in cleaning the goop. It’s where the growth happens and where we learn who we are. It is the messy, sticky, thick of it that shapes us.
I’m learning that if we find joy in even the nittiest and grittiest of tasks, we a’re more likely to be grateful across every area of our lives. I’m trying to rush through each day a little less, recognizing that this mundane - this goop - is what life is made of. If I can appreciate having a yard to mow, in and of itself, how much joy will it bring when our plants bloom next spring and our grass turns green again?
This year, our pumpkins rotted. I bought them too early. I suppose I should have consulted my mom. As I hosed the goop off of our front porch, I smiled. I watched it wash away, dripping into the grass, the water gently hitting the concrete. It felt soothing and gave me a simple satisfaction as the porch cleared. I prayed, then, that there will always be a yard to mow, little teeth to brush and ordinary moments reminding me just how beautiful life can be.