WWI Flying Ace Flies Again


Waking up this morning, I felt a crispness in the air that could only mean either The Wife had again turned down the air conditioning in the middle of the night or the window was left cracked.

This time the latter was true, and the welcome coolness carried by the gentle morning breeze into our bedroom announced, “It’s fall, y’all!”

Finally, pumpkin season has arrived.

The month of October starts the trifecta of year-end holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Each one has things that are unique only to it.

Halloween has lots of candy, trick-or-treating, and scary decorations. Turkeys, lots of food, and being thankful for family and friends are what Thanksgiving gives us. Christmas brings church services, trees in the living room to decorate, Santa visiting each house, presents galore, and special time with family.

And the month of October brings something that connects all three — pumpkins.

It’s my favorite time of the year.

You see them for sale when you buy groceries, at the hardware store, and in front of fire stations. In our fair town, pumpkins are on display everywhere and come in any imaginable shape and size.

If you want a white, orange, or multi-colored there’s a ginormous, medium, small, or even an itty-bitty pumpkin out there for you. But back on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo, real pumpkins were always round, orange, and came from only one place.  

Mr. Sims’s Pumpkin Farm.

Living in a small, red brick one-story house, Mr. Sim was the first homeowner who lived on Flamingo, and some say it was his family’s 100 acres that was split up to make Flamingo a neighborhood instead of a family farm. Don’t really know about that, but I do know that, at ten acres, his was the largest track of land on the entire street. And in back of his house, he had the largest pumpkin patch on Flamingo. 

Each year, around the first of October, he welcomed busloads of kids from Mt. Olive Elementary School to tour his ginormous pumpkin patch. The goal of the field trip was to pick out pumpkins for each class to carve or decorate, then put them on display in the school library.

In all the time the pumpkin field trips were being held, Old Ms. Crabtree’s class had never won. I was determined that year would be different because my idea was not only great, it was also pure genius — even if I did say so myself. But I needed something to make sure we’d win.

A little help from my friends.

After our class picked out a large round pumpkin, I asked Mr. Sims if we could also pick out two smaller ones and if he had one that looked like a giant pear. 

He said we could, and after finding the pear-shaped one, he said, “Don’t nobody want a pear-shaped pumpkin. Here you go.” 

With us and our pumpkins loaded on the school bus, we headed back to Old Ms. Crabtree’s classroom. But we still needed one more thing to make our dream of winning the contest come true.

Dad’s help. (And his power tools!)

Everyone in the class helped with the designing, building, carving, and painting. It was such a good idea that Down the Street Bully Brad stopped being a bully for the week to help with the build. Even Old Ms. Crabtree added one of her red scarfs to complete our display.

Starting the second week of October, each classroom placed their pumpkins on tables in the library. Our display was much larger than all the rest, so large that it had a table all to itself. 

Our display won!

The local paper took a picture and ran the story of how our class had come together and made something so special. The story appeared on the front page just before Halloween.

So what did we build with our pumpkins, a bunch of Dad’s leftover plywood, and Old Ms. Crabtree’s red scarf? It was 1966, the first year that Snoopy and the Red Baron appeared in print and the first time Old Ms. Crabtree’s class won the contest. We made a display of Snoopy, the WWI Flying Ace.

Art imitates life.

It was last week that I heard Willis Road Elementary, the school our two granddaughters attend, was having a pumpkin carving/decorating contest. I told the girls I had a great idea but would need one large round pumpkin, two smaller ones, a pumpkin that looked like a giant pear, power tools, plywood, and something else. I would need their help.

I’m proud to say, after a week of building and painting, Snoopy the WWI Flying Ace, is once again on display in another elementary school library, protecting all from his dreaded nemesis, the Red Baron.         

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories weekly in The Citizen since 2001.]

Snoopy and Woodstock with their flying doghouse take on the Red Baron once again. Photo/Rick Ryckeley.
Snoopy and Woodstock with their flying doghouse take on the Red Baron once again. Photo/Rick Ryckeley.