October 24, 2023

The Great Pumpkin Contest

In 1981, my husband Vic organized a “friendly” competition. The Ball Diamond Rd. team of close friends who lived a few miles away went vine to pumpkin against our team, the Picnic Area Road team.

There were no set rules and no history to lean on, although later there would be disagreement about unspoken assumptions.

The goal was to grow the biggest pumpkin. That’s all. The Ball Diamond team was headed by Sita (~10) and Raphael (~5) with parental assistance. The Picnic Area Rd. team was led by David (11) and Anthony (7) with Vic as support.

Picnic Area Rd. team on left, Ball Diamond Rd. team on right

Our garden soil was rich and organic. It grew ten foot tall sunflowers and thirty butternut squash in one hill of three plants. Since our gardens were organic, organic was assumed by the Ball Diamond Rd. team, but never discussed.

Vic and our sons loaded our old farm wagon with rotted manure for the pumpkin hill. I bought Mammoth Pumpkin seeds and started six plants in pots indoors a month before the last spring frost. In late May, we planted our pumpkin seedlings and began eliminating the runts and keeping the giants. Eventually there was just one giant plant spreading long vines over the manure pile at the south end of the garden.

Vic and our first tractor


The Picnic Area Rd. team was competitive. Sita and Raphael watched as our plant exploded and the vines spread. Then they became competitive, too. When there were many small pumpkins on a vine, both teams pruned the largest and left only a few. After more thinning and pruning, there was only one pumpkin on our vine by late summer. Oh, how it grew!

The other team was more relaxed, but the Picnic Area Rd. team was obsessed and fed the vine unpasteurized milk from a friend’s cow. Shame to say, Vic couldn’t leave it at that.

“Let’s use chemmy fertilizer,” Vic said to the kids. I wasn’t happy about this, but it wasn’t my project.  Miracle Gro made our pumpkin obese. I told Raphael and Sita’s mom Pat about the MiracleGro. “You cheated,” she said, pointing an accusing finger at Vic.

The Ball Diamond Team a few years earlier with baby Sita

Vic refused to feel guilty. “We didn’t have a rule about fertilizer,” Vic said with a wide grin. “We were just going for big.” He was forgiven (I think).

Vic, David, and Anthony rolled our pumpkin on a ramp and into the wagon and then off the ramp to the front porch. Vic, David, and Anthony were proud of their state fair size pumpkin. David’s friend Paul had fun being part of the laughter and photographs.

Anthony wore his favorite green rubber farmer’s boots for the photo. David held the family cat.

Anthony and David

Yesterday I asked David how much the pumpkin weighed since he was eleven at the time. I knew he’d remember. “It was 225 lbs,” David said, “before it got too big to get on our scale.”

Happy Halloween!


I first wrote a serious, sad piece about Gaza and the Middle East, but decided we’ve had enough grief this week. So I went with a silly family Halloween story. How does your family calebrate Halloween or Samhain?

For other blogs about my family and another photo of our first tractor, see My Beloved Sons. You’ll also enjoy Before and After: When My Old Life Died, A New Life Began. 


  1. October 28, 2023 at 10:35 am

    Lin Gregory


    What an excellent family tale– one that will be passed down through future generations! The fact that Vic turned to Miracle Gro to help the team win did make me smile. I can always remember my dad growing marrows and getting very competitive with a neighbour about one particular giant…although my mum drew the line at him boasting about the size of his marrow at the local grocers!! Ha-ha!! I love the fact that you have photographic evidence too – so many family stories and adventures have been lost because not so many people took photographs back then.

    Finding the balance between the light and dark side of life (especially when there is so much conflict and suffering in the world) is so important – reading this right now is perfect to lift the mood. Many Samhain blessings to you Elaine.

    1. October 28, 2023 at 3:11 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Early on in our relationship, I was the photographer and then Vic got serious about photography and even took classes at the university. I have notebooks of slides (remember those?) of my life. They need to be digitalized, but I haven’t done it. Vic did lots of sorting, but there’s more to be done. I’m glad to know the images are there. I desperately needed a mood lifter as I’m struggling with the violence of the world and the violence of my country. It’s especially hard around 4 am when I awaken with fear in my belly. The best thing I know to do is to do meditative breathing, keep peace at home, and help my son with his election campaign for the local Town Council. Blessed Samhain to you and may the colors glow.

  2. October 27, 2023 at 10:23 am

    Jean Raffa


    What a fun story! You and Vic certainly knew how to make great fun and wonderful memories out of country living. Thanks for sharing this one. I have wonderful memories of summers on my grandparents’ small Michigan farm. The only things they grew were Grandma’s flowers—she had a big garden and took fresh flowers to her “shut-ins” every Tuesday—and Grandpa’s chickens. I got to gather the eggs, sell them at the nearby farmer’s market, and keep the egg money. We were usually there long enough to see the leaves turn in the fall, and to enjoy the crunching sound they made when we stepped on them, but when we came back to Florida for school, the weather was still summer. No beautiful colors, no falling leaves, no cool breezes, no woods to roam through. The mountains of North Carolina are now my summer place. It brings back that nostalgic feeling about country life that has never left me. It washed over me again when I read this delightful story. Thank you for the reminders. Love and Samhain blessings to you.

    1. October 28, 2023 at 3:03 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      It was fun. Vic knew how to make life fun with our sons. Even though the other team moved to California, we’ve stayed in contact.

      What a nice memory of your grandma. I loved gathering eggs with my grandma, too. I still remember the smell of the hen house and the “broody” hens who wanted to keep their eggs warm to make a new generation. I have a few catalpa trees planted in honor of that grandma. I’m glad you have your residence in North Carolina. It’s getting cold here the last few days with a feeling of fall in the air. I have a great helper (found by Vic in 2006) who has firewood loaded on my front porch and keeps the trails mowed. He’s also become a close friend with my son Anthony who bought property just three miles from me. With Anthony down the road, I feel less pressure to move away from the land and community I love. Blessed Samhain to you.

  3. October 26, 2023 at 7:57 am

    Michael Cooper


    Beautiful Memories, surely The Great Pumpkin Spirit Is Smiling!


    M. Cooper and Family

    1. October 26, 2023 at 11:18 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      The Great Pumpkin shines over us in the big full moon. Samhain Blessings to you and yours.

  4. October 25, 2023 at 2:42 pm

    Marian Beaman


    Yes, Elaine, thank you for going with seasonal and silly. You understand we empathetic folks are experiencing enough emotional fatigue already.

    How blessed you are to have such sweet memories and photos to go with them.
    Hallowe’en used to be a big deal at our front door. Now, we turn off the porch light, leave home and go to one of our children’s homes where’s there’s still dress-up and enough sugary treats to make a spider skitter on a hot skillet!

    1. October 26, 2023 at 11:18 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      I’m also suffering from the grief of hatred in our country as well as around the world. It’s a sad and frightening time. I’ve never had many Halloween visitors because I’m rural. When our kids were young, we sometimes had local visits from friends so their kids could show off their costumes. Then Vic would accompany our kids for an hour of trick or treating in a nearby small time. That was plenty of candy, but they had fun in school and going door to door in the days before we had to worry about what people might slip in the candy bag. Have a lovely weekend.

  5. October 25, 2023 at 7:51 am

    Aladin Fazel


    Wow! That had to be huge!! Such beautiful memories. I have exhausted eyes, but I could enjoy this amusing story. Thank you!

    1. October 25, 2023 at 9:34 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks, Aladin. This was a story for exhausted eyes and exhausted hearts. Rest well.

  6. October 24, 2023 at 8:58 pm



    In 1976 or so, a few of us were discussing whose turn it was to drive in the carpool, for those living near Elaine in the country and commuting maybe 25 miles to Ithaca to work. Young David overheard our conversation and promptly said, “If your car gets stuck and your car-pull doesn’t work, I’ll get my tractor and pull your car out!” Such a congenial and helpful friend, even at a young age!

    1. October 25, 2023 at 10:13 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      David always wanted to help, and it was an achievement in his life when he could crank the tractor and get it going. He’ll have to say how old he was, but I’d guess 11 or 12 when he met that goal. I was never able to crank that monster and I was lifting weights in those days. It took lots of power and I was relieved when we got a tractor with a key. Vic was relieved, too. Of course, David has his own tractor now to take care of his fields and forest in North Carolina. My sons love country living. (I wonder what David meant by a “car-pull.” Thanks for adding to an old story, Myra. Blessed Samhain.

      1. November 5, 2023 at 9:36 am



        Hahahaha – it was a pun. David heard us talking about the “carpool” and interpreted that as “car-pull”! I guess it doesn’t come through as well in a quick post, maybe easier when spoken.

  7. October 24, 2023 at 10:10 am

    Deborah Gregory


    Dear Elaine,

    Oh, what an amusing pumpkin story! Ha-Ha! I love that Vic decided to improve his team’s chances of winning by feeding them, Miracle Gro. No fake advertising there, as the stuff really does do what it says on the box. Family Halloween stories like these are to be cherished!

    Deciding to improve your frame of mind this week was a wise choice too in your sharing of this delightful, silly story. Why? Because in challenging times, all of us need to be reminded that it’s not good for us to become one-sided, e.g. serious, and that balance needs to be given being silly too.

    I can hardly believe we’re only days away from a Full Hunter’s Moon and Samhain! No doubt we’ll celebrate by pulling on walking boots and heading out on Saturday, if the rain doesn’t get too heavy. Then on Sunday, it’ll be time for me to share my (hopefully finished!) ‘Song of Samhain’ poem.

    Sending you much love and light across the oceans and oaks between us, Deborah

    1. October 25, 2023 at 9:55 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Vic had such a good time with that pumpkin–and you’d have to know what a supremely honest and trustworthy person he was to fully appreciate the competition. In writing this, I needed a break from grief and hopelesseness in Washington, DC. in the Middle East, Ukraine, and many more places in the world. The Dalai Lama has been ill (flu?) and had to cancel his planned trips and talks. Now a hurricane is devastating the place where Vic and I went on our Honeymoon in Mexico. Hate has erupted and Nature has had enough of us, so many prayers of hope along with contributions to help ease suffering a tiny amount.

      There’s a 50% chance of snow in the weather forecast for Monday and Tuesday. I remember how upset my young sons got if they had to wear a winter coat over their precious costume. I never loved Halloween because my sons often got sick on the candy and trying to control how much they ate never worked well. I like Samhain much better and, on October 24, the moon was already fat as it rose above the forest on a clear evening. Full moon is on Saturday with rain and clouds in the forecast here, but maybe we’ll get lucky. If not, Disco and I will dance around a candle. Blessed Samhain to you and Lin and your pumpkins.

      1. November 6, 2023 at 8:34 pm



        Dear Elaine,
        Gosh, reading this story just made my day. With so much sorrow right now, this story of family fun (and a touch of mischief) was just what I needed.
        As always, the photos add so much, but that one of Vic on his tractor with such a joyful expression takes the prize. No Miracle Gro needed there.
        Sending autumnal blessings, Anne

        1. November 7, 2023 at 8:29 am

          Elaine Mansfield


          Dear Anne, I took that photo of Vic the farmer, and I love it, too. Vic was a housing project kid and always wanted land and to live in the country. We found a dump of a house with beautiful land which we could afford (barely) and the old tractor had been left behind in the falling down barn. Vic always said he spent more time working on the engine than using the tractor, but it hauled firewood and it took kids on hayrides. The photo is from our older son’s birthday party with a bunch of kids under three riding on hay with their parents in the back. Vic was gleeful.

          I never learned how to start the infernal machine since it required manly strength to crank the engine. It was a big deal for both our sons when they could start the tractor. I needed to write something fun for a change although I went back to serious this week and wrote about anxiety during this stressful times in our world, but I found something to feel hopeful about because that makes these times bearanble. Peace and love to you.

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