Monday, September 10, 2012

The Great Northfield Pumpkin Raid

By Rob Watson

On the last of my pumpkin growing years, Friend allowed me to use about a acre of ground for which he was caretaker. A year or so before, we had dug a well nearby. He used his tractor to break the ground and prepare it for planting. I purchased some 200 hybred pumpkin seeds for $ .33 each. The variety promised 75 to 150 pound (34 to 68 KG) fruit.

I further broke the ground with my tiller, spread fertilizer, installed a drip irrigation system, and planted the seed. As the pumpkins came up, so also came the weeds. Near the plants I weeded by hand, The tiller worked the ground further away. My friend, a farmer of many years experience, oversaw all my efforts with a critical eye.

In time pumpkins began to appear. More time revealed one was much larger than the rest. Every day, when I went out to weed and water, it got special attention. A few others showed potential to be large as well. Most of the other 200 plants seemed destined to produce the smaller fruit.

I got it into my head that I should enter our pumpkins into the state fair. I looked up the application on line, filled it in, and sent it along with the required entry fee. I had chosen the 'Large Field Pumpkin' category. I was sure my big boy would win first place.

Three weeks or so before the fair, on my daily work detail to the pumpkin patch, I strolled out to admire my pride and joy. It was not there. All that remained was a large bare patch of ground where it had been. The vine had been moved and the stem had been broken.
I looked around, hoping I was at the wrong plant. All evidence showed my big boy had been stolen. My dismay flashed into anger.

As I stalked angrily around the patch, I could see where a few other pumpkins had been taken. This observation struck me and I hurried to check out the other larger fruits. They were unharmed. When I reported to my friend and partner, he was as angry as I was. This surprised me as he is usually a kind and forgiving man.

Controlling my anger is one of my few useful skills. I redirect the excess energy into more acceptable actions. In this case, everything pointed to finding the thieves. Less than a block from the pumpkin patch, I found a teenage boy cleaning a busted pumpkin from his driveway. He suggested a name as a possible vandal. Casual observation showed he was picking up the remains of my big boy. I helped him clean up and took the pieces of pumpkin into my truck. Driving around town, I found the remains of three other of my produce. My determination to find the wrong doers grew. Hope at finding them slacked. I called the sheriff.

The plan that formed never had my confidence. I would go out at night and watch my patch from my friend's storage shed which was near by. I would dress in dark clothes, carry a camera (because I have a terrible memory for faces and names). I would lie in wait and photograph them in the act. The thought that dragged down my hopes and confidence was: Only really stupid vandals would do the same thing two nights in a row.

Skip back in time a year or so. I supplemented my income by substitute teaching. A local family had three distinctive looking children. One day, in an english class, one of them was mildly misbehaving. "Mr. FamilyName, you should never be caught making trouble. You are very recognizable."

Skip forward to the night after my pumpkins were stolen. I decided a two hour watch from full dark to midnight would have the most chance for success. As I sat in the dark, hiding between the storage shed and a trash barrel, I felt like a silly fool. Not two nights in a row, nobody is that dumb. I realized I would have to be there every night for a month to stand any chance at all of catching the troublemakers. Then, if I did catch someone, it might not be the same ones who stole the big boy.

Feelings of being very foolish grew with every tick of the clock. Only anger and determination kept me in place. Then, out of the blue, lightning struck. A car with a very distinctive sounding engine (It must have been missing on three of its 8 cylinders) drove up to my patch and stopped. Jackpot! A number of adolescent boy voices chatted excitedly as they walked across the field and into the pumpkins.

Nothing could be seen in the dark. I waited for some of the voices to return to the car, while others remained in the field. I had the camera out and ready as I approached. A streetlight some distance to my rear gave a minimum light on the action before me. The camera gave a beep and a preliminary flash before taking the picture. The boy nearest to me was the very one I had told to never be caught causing trouble. I almost laughed out loud as I said, "Mr. FamilyName, didn't I tell you not to be caught causing trouble?"

The car trunk was slammed and denials of wrong doing came from all around. Fortunately the photo showed four young men with their faces averted, a pumpkin in the trunk, and the license plate. Daylight showed five pumpkins had been picked and dropped in open ground near the car.

Friend was pleased and excited when he saw the picture. I intended to speak to the known parents and find the remaining thieves. Friend wanted to come along. These parents expected us.

Wife, who supervised a number of people doing community service, in a former job, suggested these young men clean up a lot covered with rocks and weeds, that was an eyesore and an irritation to the community fathers. (they planed to clean it up and charge the owners $300) It belonged to a non-profit group. The father of Mr. FamilyName agreed to organize the effort and a time was set.

Men are usually hard to read, but it was clear this father (as opposed to the attitude I frequently encounter) was determined to make right the actions of his child. Movies always have a sympathetic figure, drawn into the action as a victim, but who stands tall in the face of adversity. In this movie that would be the mother. Friend expressed a conviction that she was a good person and a good parent. This was repeated in later discussions as well. Her actions in support of her husband bear this out. When I showed the picture of the boys, faces averted, and began to identify, she interrupted saying, "Don't you think I can recognize my own son."
After all had been settled, the better of the county deputies called and offered to "handle" things for me. I told him that it had already been handled and thanked him for his time. No names were reported.

Later I learned, the rules for entering the fair competition required two pumpkins. The loss of Big Boy, neither harmed or helped... I won second place in the state fair... second out of two.

Friend and I discussed what would allow kids from a good family, with good parents, to do troublesome things. His contention is that everyone has a conscience to tell them right from wrong. After a time I was caused to recall my own youth. I was involved in an incident, that even though I actually used the word "stealing" to describe it, it never occurred to me that I was doing something wrong. I contend the thought that they were doing something wrong never occurred to these boys... until they were caught. And, so it was with me in my youth. This mother reminded me greatly of my own. A mother's love, Tough Love, Half a century before someone made a fortune writing about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment