Kittie Howard

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Clabber: Milk, Vanity Fair, Louisiana and Monsanto

I loved milk as a kid growing up on the farm in Louisiana, still do. However, a Vanity Fair article investigates life in a different era and how the policies of Monsanto (the international agra-mega giant) affect, not only the milk industry, but rice paddies in Asia and so much more. Please follow the link to a Vanity Fair acticle to read more about Monsanto. I think you will be surprised.


If you read "Sittin' on the Stoop", you know that the war between my grandmother and my mother ended in a truce. Life on the farm returned to normal, sorta.

Sarah, my younger sister, cried, begged, and pleaded (as only a two-year-old can do) with my grandfather not to sell Banana Horns, a cow with horns so-shaped, that she'd taken a fancy to. Pa had released Banana Horns and other cows into the pasture behind the front acres, where we lived. He wanted to fatten up the cows a bit more prior to market.

Banana Horns plodded over to the fence whenever Sarah approached. Sarah giggled with delight when she tickled the cow's nose. This very fat cow with big brown eyes and yellowish-brown hide would even lower her head so Sarah could touch her horns. And, so, Banana Horns didn't go to market.

In the meantime, while Banana Horns worked her magic, my grandmother brought my mother a pail of thick cream. At the sight, my heart sank. Mom possessed the key ingredient to make clabber.

With an eagerness that totally ruined my day, mom pulled out the clabber diaper and the whatchamacallit (a series of intertwined coat hangers), from which the diaper would hang. I swear, if I'd known the French Foreign Legion existed, my little legs would have taken off, nevermind the hot noon-day sun.

Clabber looked nasty, tasted worse. My grandparents, mother, and sister loved clabber. More than apple pie. More than homemade ice cream. Only my father and I hated the white curdles. But he was at LSU.

Within minutes, my mother and grandmother had hung the wired contraption over the kitchen sink, placed a pot in the sink, poured the cream into the diaper, and attached the stork-like bundle to the hanging wire. The cream began to drip into the metal pot. Drip! Drip! Drip!

By late evening, the fast drips would turn into slow, uneven spats. Even buried under the covers, I'd hear those splats all night. Sarah and I shared a bedroom off the kitchen. Everyone joked that Sarah could sleep through a hurricane and not stir. Not me, oh, no. I could hear a mosquito sneeze two pastures over.

At bedtime, my mother remained adamant; interior doors remained open. (So she could monitor us.) I went to bed hating clabber, woke up the same.

By morning, the cream that remained in the diaper had curdled into large white clumps. Bacteria (which I hadn't known existed) had flavored the clumps with a certain tartness. After lunch, Mom prepared generous bowls of clabber for Sarah and herself. I stared at a smaller bowl. Sarah's eyes popped with delight when Mom sprinkled sugar over the clabber, groan.

Mom and Sarah tucked into the clabber with relish. I just sat there. Now, why parents do this, I don't know, but Mom dug in, insisted I "at least try" the clabber (as if this batch tasted better.) After tearful protestations, I eventually managed to get a spoonful into my mouth. But it wouldn't go down.

My cheeks bulged. The clabber just sat in my mouth, tasting awful, swelling into a slimy glob. My cheeks bulged some more. Just as Daddy walked in and Mom stood and turned toward him, the clabber whooshed out of my mouth, like a big hurricane wind, and splattered the refrigerator with the white goo. Daddy laughed until he couldn't laugh any more. Mom beamed with happiness to see Daddy, and forgot about my whoshing clabber.

And, so, Daddy's coming home a day early from LSU ended my clabber career. Mom continued to make clabber, though. My grandfather kept milk cows on the farm. Ma pasteurized the milk. She had the proper equipment. Years earlier, Pa had worked to establish a dairy on the farm and had enjoyed success until it became apparent he lacked the resources to compete with growing dairies, like Kleinpeter Dairy, in Baton Rouge. And that turned out for the best. Pa was a cattleman, not a dairyman.

Still, we enjoyed having milk cows. Our milk tasted fresh, really fresh, with a thick foam that made a big moustache. Our milk also tasted a little sweet. Not like chocolate or a cookie. Just a little sweet that perked up the taste buds.

Pa kept his milk cows clean (they can be messy). He rotated them through the pastures. He made sure the cows grazed on grass, good sweet, bright green grasses, and not weeds and dandelions. Because what a cow eats turns into what you drink or eat.

So, interest perked when my May 2008 issue of Vanity Fair contained an investigative article about Monsanato (the global agra-giant) and seeds and farming and milk. "Monsanto's Harvest of Fear, by Donald Bartlett and James Steele, contains six pages of hard-hitting investigative journalism. Everyone concerned about what goes into their bodies should read this article.

After reading about how Monsanto threw its considerable weight around, a sense of pride emerged when I read how Kleinpeter Dairy had stood up to Monsanto's pushiness. Kleinpeter Dairy did not sell milk that contained growth hormones and stated as such on milk cartons. Kleinpeter Dairy used milk from cows "not given artificial bovine growth hormone, a supplement developed by Monsanto that can be injected into dairy cows to increase their milk output." (Monsanto's Harvest of Fear, page 5) And this had put Monsanto on the legal ceiling.

My research consisently agreed with the authors of the Vanity Fair article: The F.D.A. has not approved rBGH; studies about rBGH come from Monsnato, not outside, unbiased sources. Hence, numerous questions remain about this data, growth hormones, and milk.

Since the Vanity Fair article appeared in 2008, I didn't know who had won the battle. So, a few minutes ago I called Kleinpeter Dairy, the dairy of my youth. A real person with a delightful personality answered the phone! Soon I was speaking with a Kleinpeter representative who had time to speak to me (and who knew about clabber).

I am happy to report that Kleinpeter Dairy still does not use milk with growth hormones, that all of their dairy products are hormone free, that their dairy products are their products and not out-sourced. Someone with principles runs Kleinpeter Dairy.

But, annoyingly, if you read the Vanity Fair article you'll read where Monsanto got some of its power from a guy associated with Fox News. Pass the smellin' salts. The vapors are comin' on.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Miss Kitty, Little Kittie, and Rush Limbaugh

In an era when adults were adults and kids were kids, I didn't know why my grandmother, mother, and father had to go to New Orleans for the weekend. A tinge of disappointment at not being able to see my grandmother in New Orleans disappeared when my sister and I learned we had our grandfather all to ourselves.

Pa stood over six feet tall, with a muscled leanness and angular features that made him appear taller. He was fair-complexioned, like me, with thick, light brown hair that he kept covered with a felt hat, a style popular in the Fifties. Life had added character to his face, little crow's feet, small wrinkles from squinting into the sun. It was Pa's deep blue eyes, though, that pulled you into an orbit of love and kindness and gentleness. He was a God-fearing man, a man of few words, but when he spoke, it was from the heart and from a sense of what was right and what was wrong.

Now, for all the many things Pa could do, there was one thing Pa couldn't do: He couldn't cook.

After a breakfast of burned scrambled eggs a definite problem existed. My sister and I were little whirlwinds, constantly in motion, and needed food.

So, mid-morning, just as starvation approached, Pa announced that we'd drive into town for dinner (which was lunch; supper was dinner). My sister and I perked up.

Then, the telephone rang. My grandfather's face soon broke into a wide grin. Miss Kitty had invited us to dinner (lunch). My sister and I clapped our hands with glee and didn't have to be told to comb our hair, wash our hands and get spruced up. Everyone knew Miss Kitty was the best cook for miles around, even better than the restaurant in town.

Miss Kitty lived in a shotgun house, painted a deep, deep red on the outside. The roof was a proper roof, not a painted tin roof, and symbolized hard work and frugal finances. (There were those within this twenty-mile stretch who gambled or drank away their money or were too lazy to work. A proper roof often covered the character of those who lived within the house.)

Now, for those of you not familiar with shotgun houses, they are so named because if the front door and the back door were open, one could fire a shotgun, and the bullet would fly straight through. Shotgun houses were narrow, with a lone window on either side of the front door, and with rooms off the hall that ran through the house. Many had small front porches.

If you've visited New Orleans, especially Magazine Street in the French Quarter, you've seen a shotgun house. Within the Historic District, they are protected, very much a lifestyle status symbol for young couples.

When we arrived at Miss Kitty's, it was like entering a Norman Rockwell scene yet-to-come. A white picket fence surrounded Miss Kitty's emerald green lawn. A panoply of colorful marigolds, petunias, and verbenas in well-tended beds wrapped around the porch.

Like my great-grandmother, my grandmother's mother, Miss Kitty wore a long dress (a calico print), and a bonnet, like pioneer women wear in Western movies. And, like my great-grandmother, Miss Kitty was a little stooped over and walked with a cane.

After the proper greetings, Miss Kitty ushered us into her immaculate kitchen. The most delicious chicken stew and homemade bread awaited us.

Miss Kitty didn't let age get in the way of her life. In 1950, Miss Kitty was between 90 and 93 years old. She wasn't sure about her exact birth date.

Miss Kitty loved children. She liked to sing fun songs where we kids would clap and sing the refrain with her. We didn't know what we were singing, but it was fun. Miss Kitty spoke fluent English, fluent French, and fluent Cajun French. But her first language was a language no one in the farming community recognized. Even Miss Kitty didn't know the name of the country where this lilting language originated.

You see, Miss Kitty had been a slave. She had been born in the United States but born into slavery.

Like her parents, she had worked as a slave, the officially listed property of what the law then recognized as the rightful owner.

Miss Kitty now lived in a neat house on a farmette on what had once been a larger plantation. Where she had worked as a slave.

After the Civil War, the plantation owner's widowed wife had deeded this parcel of land (and given an unknown sum of money) to Miss Kitty. She had built the shotgun house, the house she wanted, and established the life she wanted to live. Miss Kitty had never been known to lose her temper or speak poorly of others. She never gambled or drank or smoked or ran with loose men. Miss Kitty was known as a good wife and mother, a hard worker, a person of good character, attributes anyone with any sense values. (This is not to say Miss Kitty was perfect; she'd have been the first to say No Way. Like everyone else, Miss Kitty got through challenges, sometimes of her own making, when days seemed without end, and she wished she had said or done otherwise.)

One of Miss Kitty's grown sons, with his children, also lived on the property. They worked hard to maintain a house garden, a chicken coop, and raise a few cattle for market. But it was too much for one person, even if kids helped, so farmers and cattlemen in the area, like my grandfather, volunteered their skills. Not so much with money. Miss Kitty didn't suffer financial problems.

But those who volunteered wanted Miss Kitty to enjoy her home, her flowers, her immaculate lawn, wanted Miss Kitty to maintain her high standards, wanted Miss Kitty to remain part of a community where it was common for people to help each other. Those who helped Miss Kitty knew she had been a slave, knew it hadn't been right, and felt they had a certain responsibility to ease a long-ago wrong.

Ironically, one of Miss Kitty's neighbors belonged to the KKK. No, this family didn't help Miss Kitty. But, in an era when the Klan used intimidation (and worse) for a land grab, the Klan left Miss Kitty alone.

Several years later, when Miss Kitty still lived in her house but needed a live-in relative's help to walk about, I asked my grandfather why the Klan hadn't targeted Miss Kitty. I can hear his reply now, "Miss Kitty was stronger than the Klan."

It wasn't until I was in high school, when I had accumulated more years and experiences, that I could understand the thin veneer that had separated sanity from insanity along that twenty-mile stretch of road. It was then that I realized that a certain type of Southerner knew (and knows) exactly what he/she was (is) doing, exactly what he/she was (is) saying.

I learned that Southern whites speak another English, a coded English, that is subtle and very layered. Some whites outside the South have learned this English, this English that uses the Constitution to validate racism and hate and discord and jealousy. Professors of this language, like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, speak this coded language fluently.

Let me be very clear: Southern whites know each other very, very well. Within five minutes of meeting another Southerner (whether from Louisiana or not), I can tell you that person's politics, religion and overall character. Likewise, they know where I'm coming from. And, yes, there are times when we lock horns. And, yes, there are times when I walk away, just don't go There, because I can feel that physical danger lurks.

I felt trouble when I was out campaigning for President Obama. In one 'bubbha' neighborhood, two middle-aged white women, independent of each other, told me they were voting for Obama, that their husbands weren't and "to get out of here; it's not safe." But I decided to continue with my list. As any Southerner will tell you, there's a difference between feeling trouble coming and feeling danger lurking. (And nothing happened.)

And, so, I'm sending this posting to the St. Louis Rams. When Rush Limbaugh announced that he was part of a group that wanted to buy the Rams, the team said No, we're not going to work for a bigot, we're not going to be muscled slaves, we're not going to be owned by a guy everyone knows is The Man.

My blog is small, not even an Internet blink in a stratosphere of blogs. But I can hear Miss Kitty's lilting singing, see her thin face crinkled with laughter, see the wisps of grey hair beneath her bonnet, feel her long fingers cupping my chin, feel her soft, watery eyes looking into my soul and know she'd be happy this posting will have wings and fly. Thank you, St. Louis Rams. Like Miss Kitty, you're a class act.

I'm also sending this blog to Rush Limbaugh. You see, on a small table in the living room, Miss Kitty kept an American flag, neatly folded into waxed paper and tied with string. Each Fourth of July she proudly flew this beautiful flag -- the flag my father fought for on Iwo Jima, my husband in Vietnam -- in front of her house.

Miss Kitty, the former slave, wasn't an American citizen. Unlike Rush Limbaugh, the American citizen who hasn't done much besides sit in front of a microphone and spew hate, Miss Kitty wasn't filled with anger. She only had good things to say about the United States of America.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sittin' on the Stoop Down on the Louisiana Farm

During my father's second year at LSU's Law School, his parents built a small house for us on their farm, across 'the pasture' from their house. Their house now became known in the farming area as The Big House. This raised pedestal of public opinion pleased my grandmother. The Big House was new, her dream come true, and indeed big.

However, the move from from LSU's Quonset huts, where married students then lived, to this small house, more a cottage with a front porch, proved a challenge for my mother. In Baton Rouge she'd had friends her age, could relate to others with young children, and otherwise felt part of a community. Now she lived on what she considered an isolated farm, without a support network her age, with a mother-in-law as the nearest neighbor. Without television and with spotty radio reception she had a long week to fill. My father commuted to the farm on weekends.

My grandmother and my mother didn't get along. My mother was a New Orleans city gal who missed riding the St. Charles street car to her job at a boutique fur store on Canal Street. She also missed managing her own finances, and, in reality, managing her own life. Mother was an Independent Woman ahead of her time, the product of a strong German heritage. Her great-grandparents had migrated to Louisiana from Mississippi, after the Civil War, when Carpetbaggers forced them off their land. And New Orleans being New Orleans, a world unto itself, my mother knew little about the Cajun and French cultures and had absolutely no desire to enlarge that knowledge.

Cajun aficionados commonly agree that the 'Cajun Triangle' stretches from Beaumont, Texas, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. This triangle is called the Three B's. Situated somewhat north of Baton Rouge, our farm was technically out of the Cajun triangle, but that meant little. Most in our rural area spoke or understood Cajun French to some degree, carried a Cajun or French surname, and otherwise lived within the Cajun or French culture.

My grandmother relished the role as the modern, petite matriarch of a family that had come to Louisiana in 1679. Her first language was French, Parisian French. Although she understood and spoke Cajun French, only a dire situation forced her to speak the patois. (Since she was a long-time area resident, her linguistic quirk provided a bravo spark others admired.) She also spoke fluent English. Born in 1898, Ma was the first woman of her generation to graduate from high school in the parish and was the recipient of many other firsts not common among women then.

So, two very independent women from two very different cultures locked horns.

Men being men, it took a bit for my father to realize that two opposing forces prepared for War, right under his nose. When reality finally dawned, he spoke individually to the opposing forces, thought his wisdom had worked, and returned to LSU to earn a degree to earn a living.

On weekends, my parents, my sister, and I enjoyed farm fresh eggs, fried, but a bit runny, and smothered with grits for breakfast. Once my father left for Baton Rouge, these eggs stopped. (My grandmother would place the basket of eggs on our porch just prior to her son's arrival. Unlike us, she had a telephone, a party-line, and friends would alert her when my father had driven past their houses.)

During the week, my mother cooked grits, the original grits that required time to even look like grits. She'd make a pot of grits that lasted the week. (My mother didn't like to cook and didn't particularly want to expand the subject.)

Ma seized upon her adversary's weakness. Soon, the aroma of French toast, fried dough that swelled with pockets that begged for jam, and homemade pancakes wafted across 'the pasture'.

My sister and I would slip out of the house and race across 'the pasture', on the path between the houses, that we fast created, and entered a country kitchen filled with warm aromas that couldn't be resisted. (My mouth waters now at the memory.)

Knowing what his wife was up to, my grandfather entered the fray. Pa released a small herd of his 600 cattle into the fenced-off frontage we called 'the pasture'. The excuse was that the grass needed trimming. But the goal was to nullify his wife's advantage. It failed. My sister and I learned that if we walked among the cows as if they didn't scare us, they wouldn't bother us. And they didn't. Our escapades continued.

However, my grandfather proved the cleverer of the lot. When my father returned home and saw cows grazing out of their proper pastures, he exploded. He knew cows could turn and butt us. My grandfather shrugged and pulled him aside.

The next evening, Saturday, as if by magic, neighbors appeared, at our house and at The Big House. Many brought pies and cookies and other yummy desserts.

How it happened, I don't know, but everyone ended up at my grandmother's, sitting outside, on the stoop or in chairs or spread out on the lawn, talking and laughing and enjoying the desserts. When my father announced, with great pride, that my mother was expecting their third child, applause and good cheer followed. My mother blushed, very pleased at the attention, if not exactly pleased at another pregnancy.

And, so, the ritual of gathering every Saturday evening on the stoop began. My mother and grandmother never really warmed up to each other. But they did declare a truce. The war ended, to everyone's relief. Everyone along the bayou (it wasn't but was so-called) relaxed.

When my mother made friends among those her age, my grandmother didn't interfere.

For reasons known to the telephone company, a phone couldn't be installed in our house, but my mother's friends would call my grandmother who would, in turn, come get my mother.

Since my mother didn't like gathering eggs, my grandmother taught me how (as long as she accompanied me), and, once again, like magic, we had fresh eggs all the time.

And we kids (for neighbors brought their kids) loved it when everyone gathered on the stoop. We'd run and chase each other or play hide and seek until we were tuckered out. We'd straggle in from 'the pasture' (cows now gone) for a glass of homemade lemonade and cookies, then snuggle into our parents or lean against them and hug their knees. We knew not to listen and not interrupt when the elders talked.

And the elders would talk into the evening, sharing stories, giving each other advice, bolstering each other up, all without argument or coarseness, often with laughter and good humor. As such, this continued for some years, even after we left the farm and moved into town. For my family often returned on weekends, as did the neighbors. Or, we'd sit outside, just my grandparents and us. And talk into the night. Even as a grown, married woman, when I returned to Louisiana, my grandmother and I would sit on the stoop and talk the hours away. My grandfather had long passed, but his wisdom remained and influence remained.

I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Louisiana State University and am proud of it. But so much of what helped me in Life I learned on the stoop.

Friday, October 16, 2009

SOMEONE STOLE MY PUMPKIN -- (Beginning of the Louisiana Stories)

Fall is special. I love it when the leaves begin to turn and, like bright orange and red feathers, flutter to the ground. And, as the weather turns into crisper days, sometimes with a drizzle of rain, I love to snuggle into jeans, a turtleneck, and hoodie and walk through the leaves, the right loafer lightly kicking them up, just to enjoy their fluttery descent once again. I also like to think about things during these walks. There's no need to explain what runs through my mind. You probably have your own favorite way to meditate or talk to God or commune with Nature and know about things that run through the mind.

I usually return home rejuvenated, that the only problem is there is no problem and where's my cookie? Fall is the only time of the year cookies, especially oatmeal raisin cookies, tickle the taste buds, not every day, for sure, but after a nice walk through our mini forest, absolutely. I'm pretty sure this results from when I was a kid growing up in a small town in predominantly rural South Central Louisiana.

The school bus didn't pick up 'townies'. Every week day I'd meet my friend Marilyn at a designated street corner, and we'd walk the long mile to school, chatting non-stop about This and That. It never seemed like we walked a mile. Exercise was part of our lifestyle. We all had mandatory P.E. at school. Early fall meant basketball for all the girls, football and basketball for however the boys split up. There were no exceptions; everyone had to sign up.

Actually, no one complained. We girls would run our 10 laps around the gym before practice began and think nothing of it. So, by the time the school day ended at 3:15 and Marilyn and I had walked the long mile home, we were hungry for a snack.

In each house near me the routine was the same: Drop books on the counter, hop on the bike, and peddle as fast as the wind to Mr. Morel's. For one cent we could purchase two huge oatmeal raisin cookies. A Nehi strawberry pop was a nickle more. But, since those in my group received a nickel a day allowance, we'd usually settle for the cookies and save the Nehi for a weekend purchase, minus the cookies, and save the rest (because we knew saving money was important.) We couldn't have it all and knew it.

There were two bakeries in my small town. Mr. Morel knew when the hungry hoard would run laughing and giggling into his store and had the cookies waiting. Sometimes they were still warm. Mr. Morel never really said much. He wore baggy pants and a white shirt with suspenders and had small glasses that sat down on his nose. We thought he was maybe a hundred years old.

We knew that if we didn't say Please and Thank You he'd tell our parents we were rude and something awful would happen. We never figured out what that would be. No one ever really said. But we never took any chances and always minded our manners.

There were also times when Mr. Morel was busy at his desk at the back of the store, behind a bookcase, where he couldn't see us. But he knew the ritual, recognized the excited brouhaha, and would call out for us to take our cookies and leave the pennies on the counter. And we did, always with a chorused Thank You, Mr. Morel before leaving. No one ever cheated Mr. Morel. No one.

After munching our cookies, we'd hop back onto our bikes and ride and race each other for another hour or so, until it was time for dinner, always at 5:00. We kids knew to wash our hands, set the dinner table, and otherwise help out. We didn't think to think otherwise. That's just the way it was. And we didn't complain about doing our homework after dinner. And parents didn't supervise us. It was quite clear who did what in our relationships; no one questioned otherwise.

As such, the days passed. Fall deepened into Thanksgiving, when grandparents and relatives from New Orleans visited. What, with my parents, five kids, and a ton of relatives, by the time Christmas approached, the sounds of laughter and kids playing games (sometimes arguing) and the teasing aromas of holiday pies and cookies, happy excitement filled the house.

My father always purchased a Christmas tree. The fresh-cut scent filled the living room. After waiting a couple of days for the branches to fall, we'd gather to decorate the tree. My father managed the lights. My mother placed the angel at the top. I hung ornaments just below the middle of the tree. And so it went, with each of us having an age-appropriate responsibility, until we finished our tasks, stepped back, and beamed with pride at what we'd accomplished.

I don't remember the exact year, but I do remember that, one year, about a week before Christmas, my father had the idea to drive around and look at the brightly-lit Christmas trees shining from living room windows. And so we did. And it was a lot of fun, with all of us oohing and ahhing over the lights.

That is, until we left our neighborhood and drove farther, to the edge of town and beyond, where the school bus stopped, where some of my classmates lived. The merriment that had filled our car soon turned into a puzzled silence. Very few had Christmas trees. In the three houses where my classmates lived, there wasn't a Christmas tree, even a hint that Christmas was coming. Of course I knew where my classmates lived. Except during winter (too much slick rain) we peddled our bikes everywhere and were regularly inside of each other's houses.

My father saw my sadness and began to explain, in the way that parents did, that my classmates' parents lacked the money to buy a tree, the lights or ornaments. I remember listening intently, but still feeling sad, when my father pulled into a long driveway. We went inside. I didn't know these people, but they seemed to be waiting for us. In proper Southern fashion, we were ushered into the living room. There, standing next to drawn curtains, was a tall tree, without lights or glass ornaments, but with brightly painted tin cans hanging. It was a Cajun Christmas tree!

These days, Cajun Christmas trees are a major competitive Christmas ritual in Cajun Louisiana. Back when I was a kid, it was Christmas spirit without the money. And, so, we kids sat politely and sipped Kool-Aid. The adults sipped egg nog and laughed and talked. Soon, it felt like Christmas in that small room with the Cajun Christmas tree.

When we returned home, full of holiday spirit and a bit wiser for my tender years, we just opened the door and walked in. No one locked doors in those days. There was no need.

And, just like I've grown up to enjoy that fall cookie, I've also grown up believing in that Cajun Christmas tree. Holiday spirit is in the heart, not with anything one buys. Nor can anyone steal holiday spirit.

So, imagine my surprise, my sadness, when I awoke Monday morning to discover that someone had stolen my pumpkin outside.

As much as anyone could love a pumpkin, my inner child loved the one we had selected. Our pumpkin was a vibrant orange, like the leaves that turn, and was almost perfectly round. Too round was too perfect. We wanted a pumpkin with a few flaws, like life, not always smoothe, but made more beautiful from life's challenges. We wanted a pumpkin with little crow's feet that smiled.

Five days later I'm still perturbed about the stolen pumpkin, the bright orange pumpkin with the green stem, the one among many in the bin that screamed Buy Me, Buy Me! And, so, we did, my inner child and I.

I know, I know, it's silly to personalize a pumpkin. But there's more to it than that. The pumpkin personalizes the Spirit of the Season, a time of warmth, good cheer and all those Hallmark words that everyone wants to be real.

Anyway, I'm still an adult and have to say that it's been a very good week, pumpkin aside, with hectic activities, visits with old friends and enough to keep me beyond busy to shake the stolen pumpkin. But I haven't. I can't stop wondering, what's so wrong Out There that someone would steal a two-dollar pumpkin? Harry and I live in an established neighborhood with few kids and little outside traffic. Stealing a pumpkin is too mean-spirited and just doesn't fit.

I guess I need to take a long walk and watch the leaves flutter and think about things.