The Great Pumpkin Challenge

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The rule for The Great Pumpkin Challenge was simple enough: Carry as many pumpkins as you can without dropping them.

Early Saturday morning our two granddaughters, Little One and Sweet Caroline, raced to the car. Don’t really know if their excitement was because they were going to help stack pumpkins on their Big Papa or because they were excited to see how many I would drop and smash on the floor.

Either way, during the short drive to the giant plant nursery with the green roof, they couldn’t stop talking and asking questions, and their main question was “Why are we doing this?”

My answer took me back to that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo. Remembering what my dad had said so many times, I replied with a smile, “It’s a great deal. Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Little did I know, Dad and I were soon to be proven wrong.    

While growing up on Flamingo, our parents told us many things about life and, if I were to be honest, I’ve forgotten most of them. How many? Not really sure because I’ve forgotten them.

One thing they said that I’ve remembered to this day, “Money doesn’t grow on trees. There’s no such thing as a money tree.” They repeated this statement each time we asked for money.

So to understand the value of money or just to get a lot of cheap labor, if we wanted to buy something, our parents had us work for it. Here are just a few of the money-making tasks we had to perform. Perhaps some of them from our childhood look familiar to you too. 

When the leaves in the backyard needed to be raked, Dad said he’d pay each of us kids twenty-five cents per hour. Payment was rendered when the entire yard was raked. It was an agreed upon price for agreed upon task. Fair enough, right?

That’s what my three brothers and I thought — until we looked around after the end of the first hour and only a small part of the backyard was clear of leaves. We each had a section of the yard, but when any of us raked up a big pile of leaves, the others would run over and dive into it scattering them everywhere.

It took us until lunch before the backyard was clear and we each got paid a dollar. Leaf diving was a ton of fun, but it wasn’t a very efficient way to earn money. And neither was collecting pinecones.

Spanning the distance from our house to the front lawn stood a grove of pine trees. Dad loved the trees but hated the pinecones and straw on the lawn. Each weekend during the fall and winter, he paid us twenty-five cents an hour to rake the lawn and bag up pinecones.

Each time we filled a bag, the Great Pinecone War would break out. It took the four of us all day to finish the job. It was a lot of fun, but again, not a very efficient way to earn two dollars.

After moving from Flamingo, the hourly pay from Dad went up a little. Our house could easily be seen from the street, so he gave us a new weekend job. We were to pull up baby pine trees from the forest across the street and replant them in our yard. Imagine our excitement when we found out that we were going to get paid fifty cents a tree!

It took two months of pulling and planting, but the yard was finally full of baby trees. When Mom said something about how many there were, I overheard Dad saying, “It’s okay, not all of them are going to live.”

Last month I drove by our old house — at least I think I did because you couldn’t see it through the forest of thirty-foot pines. Looks like they all lived after all. Dad got a really good deal.

We pulled into the parking lot right when the pine tree story was finished. By that time, the girls understood that there’s no such thing as a money tree. If you want money, you have to work for it. And some work is harder than others, like raking leaves, bagging pinecones, planting trees or even carrying pumpkins.

Reader’s Note: To anyone trying the challenge, it will get the employees’ attention when two laughing grandchildren start to stack pumpkins on you. It will get the store manager’s attention when some drop off the teetering orange stack. Not gonna say how many went SPLAT, but we had to buy them also. Now we will be eating pumpkin pie well into next year.

Helping to push our cartload of pumpkins to the cashier, the girls stopped in the middle of the store and screamed, “There it is, Papa! Can we buy it?” They ran over to the oddest plant I’d ever seen. It had five trunks twisted around each other and large green leaves in the shape of a hand. The sign above it read Pachira aquatica, aka Money Tree.

I told the girls to pick out two. It was a great deal; the second one was half price. Gotta save money where we can. Besides, with Christmas right around the corner, having a couple of money trees could come in really handy.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]