I remember the day clearly. It started with my grandmother and me sitting on the front porch of her small, white farmhouse.
A light fall breeze blew my hair softly against my cheek as I watched yellow and orange leaves rain lazily down from the trees in Grandma's front yard.
"It's hard to believe fall is here, Grandma."
My grandmother paused her apple peeling to watch the shower of leaves paint her summer yard the colors of autumn. "Yes dear, summer left us in a hurry, didn't she?"
"I like fall, though, Grandma. I like the bright colors of the leaves, and of course, I love Halloween."
"Halloween ... yes, of course, you love Halloween. That reminds me ... let's not forget to pull a pumpkin from the patch for you to take home today."
"Yeah, Mom said we could carve it this evening. I can't wait!"
"Oh, it's fun to carve a jack-o-lantern, sure enough. I remember my mother carving pumpkins when I was a little girl. And I remember, too, her telling me the story of "The Pumpkin Patch.' "
" "The Pumpkin Patch?' "
"Yes, dear, you see when my mother was a little girl, her mother told her the story of a magic pumpkin patch. Way back then, some folks believed in magic pumpkins and such, you know?"
"In magic pumpkins, you're joking, Grandma!"
"Well now, that's what some folks believed long ago."
"How was it magic, Grandma?"
"It became magic on Halloween night. It would keep a person safe from witches, ghosts, goblins and such."
"Grandma, there's no such things as witches, ghosts and goblins – even a second grader knows that!"
"Well, Miss Second Grader, it's not for me to say if there's no such things or not. Some folks believe, and some don't."
"But, will you tell me the story anyway, Grandma?"
"Sure, I will. The day I don't have time to share a story with my granddaughter is a sad day, indeed."
"Is this something that happened to your grandmother, Grandma?"
"Yes, it is. You see, long ago, when Grandmother was a little girl, she had walked to her neighbor's house to watch for the witch."
"To watch for the witch?"
"Oh yes, folks around here believed back then that if you stared hard at the moon while counting backwards from 10 to one on Halloween night, you'd see a witch fly by it."
"You're kidding me, Grandma."
"No, no, I'm not."
"And this happened on Halloween night?"
"Did your grandmother see the witch?"
"Well, of course ... but that's not the scary part. The scary part is what happened on her walk back home."
"What was the scary part, Grandma?"
"Well, hold on now ... there's a story to be told here. Let's start with my grandmother's walk home. You see, back then, folks in the country didn't live right next to one another, as many do now. You couldn't stick your hand out your kitchen window and pull an apple from your neighbor's tree. Grandmother had a walk of a couple miles or so from her friend's house to hers."
"Why did she walk to her friend's house, Grandma? Why didn't she just watch for the witch from her family's house?"
"Well, when you see a witch, you want your best friend by your side. You need someone to grab on to, don't you?"
"Well, yeah, you're right, I would want my friend to be with me so we could see the witch together – and grab on to each other! Did your grandmother have a really long walk home?"
"You bet she had a long walk home ... and she was alone ... on a dark Halloween night!"
"Was she scared, Grandma?"
"Well ... not until she heard it."
"It? What did she hear, Grandma?"
"Well, it started out as a crunch crunch crunch on the dry, fallen leaves behind her."
"Crunch crunch crunch behind her?"
"Uh-huh, at first grandmother thought the crunch sound came from her own footsteps. But when she stopped to listen ... well, the crunch crunch crunch didn't stop when she did."
"Did she look behind her?"
"She did, but she saw nothing but the dark."
"What happened? Did the crunch crunch crunch stop?"
"No, and not only did it not stop, but a huuuh huuuh started in with it."
"A huuuh huuuh, Grandma?"
"Yes, like someone breathing hard."
"And did she look behind her?"
"Yes, she did, and even though she saw no one, she called into the dark – "Bobby?' "
"Who was Bobby, Grandma?"
"Her friend's brother ... you see, he liked to play tricks on people."
"Was it Bobby playing a trick on your grandmother, Grandma?"
"No, just a crunch crunch crunch and a huuuh huuuh."
"What did your grandmother do then?"
"Oh, she walked on, but even faster now that she was hearing the huuuh huuuh."
"Was she fast enough to get away from the crunch crunch crunch and the huuuh huuuh?"
"Oh, she was fast enough to keep ahead, but not fast enough to get away from the crunching, and the huuuhing, and the whispering."
"Oh, certainly ... "right behind you,' my grandmother heard "right behind you' !"
"So now she heard crunch crunch crunch, huuuh huuuh, "right behind you right behind you' ... right behind her?"
"That's exactly what she heard right behind her."
"Did she run, Grandma?"
"She did. She ran straight to a pumpkin patch."
"Oh yeah, you told me that pumpkin patches used to be magic, Grandma."
"That's right, and on that dark Halloween night long ago, my grandmother did what her mother had taught her to do – she ran straight to the nearest pumpkin patch, jumped into it and spoke the magic rhyme!"
"Do you know the magic rhyme, Grandma?"
"Well I sure do. It goes like this:
Pumpkins lying on the ground
lift your vines and circle round.
Pumpkins on this All hallow night,
Keep me safe till first morning light!"
"That's the magic rhyme your grandmother spoke, Grandma?"
"That's the magic rhyme she spoke – and later taught me. A person speaks the rhyme, you see, then the pumpkins circle round and send out a light to protect whoever is standing inside the circle."
"And whoever's standing inside the circle has to stay there until the first morning light, Grandma?"
"Yes, that's right."
"And that's what your grandmother did?"
"So the story goes."
"Grandma, it's a good story ... especially if it really did happen, but it's hard to believe."
"Well, it's like I told you, dear, some folks believe, and some don't. But now that I'm through peeling and cutting these apples ... let's go pull that pumpkin for you to take home."
"I can't wait to help Mom carve it tonight. We're going to roast the seeds, too."
"Oh, you make your old Grandma hungry for pumpkin, dear. Maybe I'll make a pie tonight."
My grandmother and I walked to her pumpkin patch. I can still remember how surprised we both were at what we saw.
"Grandma, how did you plant your pumpkins in such a neat circle?"
"I didn't ... I planted them in rows."
"But look at them, Grandma. It looks like someone has picked them up and formed them into a perfect circle!"
"It does, dear, you're right. But I didn't do it."
"Is this a joke, Grandma?"
*** Published Sunday, Sept. 19 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***
"No, I promise you, dear, I didn't do it. I don't know what to think of it!"
"Wow, Grandma, and it isn't even Halloween yet. But I know where I'll be this Halloween if I see a witch fly by the moon!"
"I have a feeling I'll find you out here in this pumpkin patch."
"That's right, Grandma ... out here in your circle of pumpkins."
"And if I find you out here the morning after Halloween, we'll pick one of these magic pumpkins, and we'll whip him up into pie for breakfast!"
"That sounds good to me, Grandma."
My grandmother and I laughed together, and then walked back to her front porch. I still remember sitting beside her and watching the leaves fall, as I held the just-pulled pumpkin by my side and waited for my mom to pick me up.
I can't say for sure if it really happened, but I can recall thinking back then that I had felt the pumpkin move under my arm.
Now as an adult with my own children, I tell them my grandmother's story of "The Pumpkin Patch" every Halloween night. And on Halloween night, after the telling of the story ... we go outside, sit in the dark and watch for a witch to fly by the moon ... from inside a pumpkin patch – of course.
© 2009 Virginia L. Grant
-- THINK YOU CAN WRITE a (mildly) scary story. Try it and you may win $100. Click HEREfor contest guidelines.