After I moved to this quirky town, the natives told me about certain seasonal rituals. The spring Bacchanalia is known as Blossom Time—a three-day party that happens every Memorial Day weekend.
That first Memorial Day, I found out that this town knows how to throw a party.
The fall ritual is known as The Pumpkin Roll, and it happens—well—it’s a secret.
“What do you mean, it’s a secret?” I asked, instantly intrigued.
“Well,” my informant said, “It’s unsanctioned.”
“Unsanctioned? Why? What is it? Who does it?” I persisted.
She leaned closer. “On a secret night around Hallowe’en time, the junior and senior classes at the high school bring hundreds of pumpkins to the top of Grove Hill, smash them on the roadway, and then slide down on the pumpkin guts.”
“They do not!” I said.
“They do. It makes a huge mess.”
“That’s awful,” I said, thinking, That’s awesome! “Um. Where do they get the pumpkins?”
“They steal them. They call it ‘pumpkining.’ Around here, you have to watch your pumpkins.”
I needed the down-low, so I got online.
According to Wikipedia, the tradition began in 1909 as a “dump and run,” but has evolved into a more elaborate event, beginning with a party in a barn. In 2005, a record 22,000 pumpkins were smashed on the hill, which made me wonder who counted them. Police interference has had little effect over the years, though students caught stealing pumpkins are arrested. There’s considerable underage drinking, numerous injuries, but there have been only three deaths.
It sounded like sort of a local “running of the bulls.” Planned by teenagers.
I am amazed, delighted, and appalled, all at once. How could such an event keep happening, at a time when helicopter parents drive their children to the bus stop?
Me, I was determined to be on scene for the roll.
As the trees turned to red and gold, I noticed that the local greenhouse offered “Pumpkin insurance.” If you bought a pumpkin from them, and it was stolen, they would replace it. Once.
At the annual October cleanup, the ladies on the Beautification Committee were already complaining about stolen pumpkins.
“They stole them right off my porch,” one woman said. “That’s twice now. I’m not buying more.”
“That’s terrible,” I said. “Um. When’s the pumpkin roll?”
They stared at me. “It’s a secret,” they said.
“How can I find out? I—ah—want to know when it’s safe to put my pumpkins out again.”
“Maybe you could ask somebody at the high school,” they say, edging away from me.
When I left for San Diego for the World Fantasy Convention, I warned my husband, “Keep an eye out for the pumpkin roll.”
“When is it?”
“It’s a secret.”
Naturally, the pumpkin roll happened while I was in San Diego. There was a photo in the local paper. Somebody tipped the media, obviously.
So I’m down at the salon and Hannah is cutting my hair and I mention the pumpkin roll.
“I was there!” she said. “It was awesome, because nobody got hurt this year. I always go and try and look out for the kids.”
“Have you…actually participated?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said. “When I was in high school. I got pretty badly hurt.”
“I was walking back up the hill, and these guys were coming down and wiped me out and I hit my head on the pavement and they had to take me away in an ambulance,” Hannah said cheerfully.
“And this is…a fond memory for you?” I ask cautiously.
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “I was the only one sober. Doesn’t it just figure?”