I’ve got a little thing with gourds this year.
I’m not sure why, but I can’t get enough of the gnarled, twisted, lumpy, misshapen and in some cases downright hideous-looking symbols of fall lining shelves at supermarkets, garden centers and farm stands.
They’re in my window boxes, nestled between the fading miniature mums and decorative cabbage. They’re on my countertops, holding court in white ceramic bowls and baskets. And they’re on the kitchen table, peeking out of the box holding the salt and pepper, condiments, napkins and sauce packets from the Chinese place.
I should have suspected things were a little off when I texted the following to my friend (and fellow gourd fan) Barbara on Sept. 23rd:
“The farm stand near your house has phenomenal pumpkins and gourds this year.”
I never heard back from her, which was unusual, so I checked the number. I actually sent that text to a stranger, who’s probably wondering what constitutes a phenomenal gourd and why anyone would actually care.
I was equally smitten when my sister-in-law Ann drew three gourds and posted her work on Instagram (#annsarthabit).
“Very cool gourds,” I wrote.
I’m not sure when this love affair (obsession?) with gourds began, but I think it may be a function of age. I never cared about them when I was younger, wondering who’d spend good money on nature’s ugliest bounty. But I’m fascinated with gourds now, realizing they’re Mother Nature’s version of the troll – so ugly that they’re cute and endearing.
Perhaps as we age and become a little lumpier and bumpier ourselves, we develop a soft spot in our hearts for things that are less than perfect. How else do you explain buying a gourd covered in bumps that at certain angles, looks like the surface of the moon?
Last year, I stacked several large gourds as part of an autumn display in my memorial garden for my first Lab Lindsey in my front yard. But I’ve been slow to bite the bullet on big gourds this year, mainly because I’ve lacked the time to leisurely gourd shop.
I don’t just want to grab any old gourds on the run. I want time to study them, to decide whether I really want an orange one that looks like it has Elephant Man’s disease or a white one resembling a human brain. Unlike pumpkins, gourds require a bit of deliberation. You must decide whether the lumps and bumps are endearing, or simply too hideous to bear. And because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it’s probably best to gourd shop alone.
I learned this last weekend at my favorite farm stand, when a teen-age girl ran up to a length of tables holding hundreds of gourds, picked up a small yellow one shaped like a pear and said, “Can we get this one Mom? Puleeze?”
I stared at the mom, hoping she’d say yes. It was such a simple request. It wasn’t a $400 Apple watch, a $1,000 MacBook Air or even a $5 gourmet cupcake from the overpriced Italian bakery down the street. It was a tiny gourd being sold for $1.49/pound.
The mom looked at me waiting for her response. And when she nodded and said it was OK to buy, we smiled at each other. At that moment, we both understood that in the grand scheme of things, a daughter’s request for a pale yellow gourd was a simple wish, and that others wouldn’t always be so simple, cheap or attainable.
Of course, not everyone appreciates gourds. I was hoping the Curmudgeon would heave some heavy gourds into a wagon and the car for me, but he brushed off my request to buy big gourds.
“Big gourds are dumb,” he muttered, as a couple of young women spirited by with a wagon full of huge gourds. “I bought you a nice pumpkin, and five small gourds. Why do you need big gourds too?”
I didn’t have the heart to tell the Curmudgeon that no one needs gourds, but people want them because they like them around. People have been cultivating gourds for 5,000 years to use for everything from drinking vessels to weapons, so I have humanity and its survival on my side. I’m not the first and certainly the last person to want big gourds.
So I returned to the farm stand on my own, and heaved two big gourds and a 20-pound Hubbard squash into my wagon. I have no idea where I’m putting them, but that’s not the point. I finally put in the time and effort to get the gourds I want. And right now, that’s enough for me.