Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Smashing Pumpkins (Not the Band)

Ask people what they do for Thanksgiving and the phrases “watch football,” “family time,” and “food coma” are bound to come up. Ask me what I do for Thanksgiving and you might get something a little different.

My dad says it started when I was born. My mom says it started two years later around the time my sister was born. Regardless of when it actually started, I can’t remember a Thanksgiving in which we didn’t go over to my grandparents house, dress up like pilgrims and Indians, and then march up to my grandparents’ roof to throw pumpkins off of it.

Every year, my grandfather goes to the pumpkin patch the day after Halloween and buys as many pumpkins as he can get his hands on. The bigger the better. Days, and sometimes weeks before the actual event, my grandma starts to tell us how many pumpkins my grandfather was able to pick up. Sometimes we even go over a few days early and check out the stock, admiring and making mental notes of which ones we want to lob off the roof. The anticipation builds and builds this way until, finally, the day arrives and my family and I drive the seemingly endless thirty minutes to my grandparents’ house. When we get there, the first thing we do is check out all the pumpkins lined up on the porch. Somehow, my grandpa always seems to outdo himself. I still don’t know how he gets so many pumpkins in an aging minivan, but each year, it seems like there are more pumpkins lined outside the house.

The level of anticipation at this point is almost unbearable, but rules are rules, and no one gets to throw a pumpkin off of the roof without the proper garb. My grandparents were both born in Holland, so they (and anyone else present who was born overseas) get to wear full pilgrim outfits. Anyone who was born in America is deemed a “Native American,” and so boxes of apparel are strewn over the surface of the pool table in my grandparents’ game room, and there is a mad dash for the best headdresses and plastic bear claw necklaces. When everyone is satisfied with their appearance, it’s photo time with the pumpkins. Everyone in the family poses together either perched atop or standing next to the soon to be doomed gourds.
The Thanksgiving photo shoot was the worst nightmare for every kid growing up in my family. It was like someone giving you a present on Christmas and then telling you that you had to wait until the Fourth of July to open it. As a kid, all I could think about during the photo shoots was that pumpkin I was sitting on. After about ten or fifteen photos, I was always sure it was mocking me. I remember nearly falling off of pumpkins I was sitting on when I was little just because I wanted to smash them so badly.

Finally, it’s time. Everyone picks up the biggest pumpkin they can find and marches around the house to the metal ladder that goes to the roof. On the side of the house, the roof lowers to about six feet in height, so we hoist the pumpkins onto the roof first, and then climb up to retrieve them. Once everyone and their pumpkins are on the roof, we march to the highest point, directly over the cobbled patio.

When everyone gets their pumpkin to the top of the roof, it’s finally time. At the count of three, there’s a collective grunt as everyone launches their pumpkins and then about two seconds of absolute silence before the pumpkins hit the ground and explode. After a few rounds of this (no, we don’t just throw one each), the patio is covered in orange carnage. You can barely walk through the patio because there are pumpkin pieces everywhere you step. When the last pumpkin has been pitched, it’s the kids job to shovel the smashed pieces into wheelbarrows, and then wheel the wreckage to the creek. Over the years, we’ve dumped so many pumpkins into the creek that new ones have begun to grow on the banks. Once all the pumpkins are cleaned off the patio, we move on to a much more traditional Thanksgiving dinner in the house.

Even though we’ve done the pumpkin toss for as long as I can remember, I can’t fathom ever tiring of it. It has become something that I associate with Thanksgiving just like most people associate bunnies with Easter. It’s a chance to spend time with family and maybe do something a little different in the process. Every family has their quirks. Mine just happens to be that we like to throw pumpkins off of a roof.

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