Of all the images of autumn—colorful trees, leaves piled high, shocks of corn, parents and children wrangling and wrestling over the need to wear a coat while Trick-or-Treating—none are so fitting, so compatible with fall, as those of the pumpkin. Yes, the simple yet handsome pumpkin. Large, medium or small. Carved, painted, or decorated with Mr. Potato-Head like adornments. The pumpkin has taken on a seasonal holiday significance that even Charles Schulz, of Great Pumpkin fame, would never have thought possible.
In recent years, however, getting to the highly regarded pumpkin has become a great deal more complex than when I was a kid. To get to the pumpkin these days, families must pass through a multi-million dollar agritainment industry all too eager to offer kids everything from jumping pillows to hayrides, corn cannons to duck races, zip lines to pig races, rope mazes to pedal go-carts, and so much more—Walt Disney himself surely would have been in high spirits with entrepreneurial admiration for the modern day farmer.
The fair if depressing takeaway from this is, when I was a kid, these same farmers actually farmed. Nowadays though, farmers, struggling as they do to make a living and retain ownership of the family farmstead, grow corn not to feed animals, or God forbid, people, but rather, they grow corn so they can turn their cornfields into circuitous mazes where whole families flock en masse for the opportunity to bravely trek, for a fee, of course, from curious beginning to puzzling end—in some rare cases never to be heard from again.
This year’s corn maze experience suffered a close brush with an uncertain outcome for my family and me. Nearly an hour after entering the maze and moving ever deeper into the tangle, I was struggling to find the way out—it was getting late and we hadn’t seen anyone for a while. My mounting sense of claustrophobic anxiety was becoming increasingly difficult to conceal as my daughters relentlessly queried and badgered me as to which path to take, “Which way dad? Which way? Should we take this path? How about that one? Dad? Daaaad? ”
“Uhh… well… let’s see.” I stammered. Using a stick as a makeshift pointer I bent down and began to scratch a series of lines into the pathway on which we stood, mostly for show, as if hatching a plan—but I was just stalling. Unsure of our exact position I grew more and more uneasy, and they could sense it.
Fortunately for us though, my wife, who detected as much, and who consistently excels in moments just such as this, put to use her calm ways and puzzle-cracking acumen to guide us from the ambiguity post-haste. This, just as I was about to takeoff running—and screaming—directly through the ten-foot-tall cornstalks, arms thrashing about vigorously, in the direction of west, which I smartly discerned by the location of the sun on the horizon, and in which the car had last been seen. “That was a close one,” I say, “let’s pick our pumpkins and go home.” My daughters agree, they too are thankful to be back on the wagon, though their mother just rolls her eyes—she’s probably tired I reason.
And just as you could break a branch off your neighbor’s white pine or blue spruce and call it a Christmas tree. So too could you go to the local Safeway and pickup two pumpkins for $4 bucks, or the local nursery for $6—sadly though, this style of rearing does scarcely little to nudge the kidos’ happy meters in the direction of happy.
Instead, do consider pointing the family truckster in the direction of what used to be your local area farm, but that which is now a well-oiled agritainment apparatus, and purchase those same two pumpkins for roughly $20 bucks, plus a handful of ancillary fees? Like the face painting fee. That’s $5 bucks. Or the stick-on tattoo fee—that’s $5 bucks also. Corn maze? That’s $5 bucks as well. Lest we not forgot the trebushay gourd lunching fee—unironically, that too costs $5 bucks. Though this activity strangely seems worth the $5.00. As dads and children alike share the joy of watching things fly or explode, and in the course of this activity we receive the benefit of, and bear witness to, both—truly a great fall activity for dad and the kids.
But the one fee I found the most vexing. The fee that was without a doubt the most blatant money grab I’ve ever seen, was the $5.00, one-loop, less-than-sixty-second, hardly-call-it-a-ride-at-all, pony ride fee. But that an event conceived to give families and kids a fun experience should be so stingy with their otherwise unused ponies—there was no one else in line at the time and the ponies didn’t look the least bit tired, actually, they looked a little bored to me—is especially disconcerting.
Though I’m happy to report there’s currently no fee for the petting zoo, as of yet. “Hey, don’t pet those animals.” I say to all the kids, “Haven’t you heard the Swine Flu is big this year.” Brooding, our two girls ask for just one more pony ride. “No,” I say, “we’ve had enough fun for one day. We gotta go.”
For my family, going to the local pumpkin patch has become something of seasonal expectation—akin to putting up the Christmas tree. We’ve been doing it since they were born. Yet, doing so is not an experience one can expect to have without spending a few extra dollars. So bring your wallet, and your GPS. Because everything has a fee, and a cornfield is probably not a fun place to spend the night, especially in October.