As long as he could remember, the littlest pumpkin had been on the shelf at Morrison’s. The bigger, older pumpkins had told him that he’d been brought in from the field, but he’d been too young. He couldn’t remember the great greenhouses they talked about, or the coming of the huge Pumpkin Picker – although not remembering it hadn’t stopped him having nightmares in the night in the fruit & veg department. Once or twice he’d nearly rolled right off his shelf in terror. It was a pity his unconscious mind had centred in on the Picker at all; because the littlest pumpkin had only ever wanted one thing. To be the scariest Halloween lantern in Scotland!
Day after day he lay there, smiling at the people walking past with ever-growing desperation. Once or twice a human might stop, pick him up; even squeeze him a little. The littlest pumpkin felt aggrieved at this over-familiarity, but he bore it bravely as it seemed his best chance of achieving his one goal. But every time this happened, the customer would put him down again, and stoop to pick up a bigger specimen. In this way all his brothers and sisters left him, one by one. Some even stuck their tongues out at him as they gratefully fell into the trollies. ‘Hah’! They would remark cruelly as they waved him goodbye. ‘You’re tiny! You have no chance at all…’ Fighting back a tear, which would always try to escape his little eye at times like this, the littlest pumpkin would re-affirm his litany; ‘I am big. I am important. I will be a fantastic Halloween lantern’! Nobody had ever told him this, but he just couldn’t bring himself not to believe it.
Unbeknownst to the little pumpkin, tomorrow was Sunday. This was a very special day at the store – because the Fruit & Veg manager always ordered his team to put aside any veg they could spare, or which had been on the shelves a long time. These items would be put together in the green produce crates, and overnight they would be left in the cold store to await pick-up in the morning. Once this happened, they were never seen again but the crates would come back that evening…..
‘How are you bearing up’? Asked a nearby artichoke. She’d been watching the littlest pumpkin in all of his most recent disappointments, and being a kindly sort of vegetable she always hoped that someone would buy him. The little pumpkin shrugged, trying to act tough. Then he hung his head as the tear threatened to escape his eye again. ‘No-one wants me’. He cried.
‘There, there’. The artichoke consoled him. ‘It’s early days yet. Only the 5th of October. In a fortnight you’ll be big and strong. They’ll be queueing up to buy you for Halloween’! She put a hand on his shoulder and the little pumpkin smiled because he felt better. But the artichoke knew something he didn’t; she knew she’d been lying. Artichokes aren’t very bright, and she had felt that a week or two of mollified feelings might be worth the pumpkin’s inevitable disappointment. The sad fact was evident to any fruit or veg specimens who had been on the shelf for a while. Although some fruits and vegetables can ripen once picked, they can never grow again.
So, it looked bleak for the littlest pumpkin. No real chance of getting any bigger, and not a human friend in the world to buy him and make his lifetime ambition come true. Let’s take a look at a human family nearby, to give ourselves a different perspective…
Somewhere in Edinburgh, a family lived. Although they were geographically near to the Store, no Halloween preparations had been made in this house. This was because there were four children and two parents to feed, and there nearly never was quite enough money, or food, to go around. No time to be wondering about little paper trinkets or costumes. Mum and Dad felt bad about this, but they knew they had to prioritise feeding the children over frivolities. Luckily, a social worker who had come to visit them had referred them a while ago to a new charity called ‘Cook-Inn’. This team of volunteers would come on Sundays with a bag of fruit and veg to see the family through the week. In the days when Cook-Inn had access to a kitchen, there had always been hot soup and rolls as well. It was hoped that the hot food might be resumed soon, because a new venue had been located for the cooking classes and it was all done barring a few things to satisfy the Health & Safety inspectors. Mum and Dad really didn’t mind all the extra cooking on Sundays; the Cook-Inn team always gave them a little more to compensate for the loss of the hot food.
The smallest child, a little girl called Cathy, had in fact never in her life made a Halloween lantern. She wanted to carve out the growly, toothy face just like her sisters had shown her back when she hadn’t been old enough to handle the knife. Now she was older, but it didn’t look like Cathy would be getting the chance this year. The less amusing spectre of ‘Universal Credit’ had reared its ugly head, and now nothing was certain anymore. Cathy had had it all explained to her by both parents and siblings. She knew there was ‘nowt to be done’ about it, so she tried not to sulk.
Things looked no better for the littlest pumpkin, come the middle of October. Saturday night he found himself unceremoniously dumped into a crate with a lot of different fruit and vegetables. Into the cold and the dark they were taken, and once the workers had left the store and turned the light out, the littlest pumpkin sat in the darkness almost crying with uncertainty. All night the other vegetables moaned and wailed, talking about the ‘skip’ (whatever that was) and the dogs they all seemed to fear would be visiting it. The littlest pumpkin didn’t feel like skipping, so it was just as well that the cold was making him very tired. Soon, he slept; ; and he knew no more until the morning came, and the shelf stackers returned. The little pumpkin expected to be put back out onto the shop floor with others like himself, but he was disappointed. Ten o’clock came, and all the vegetables in his crate were still there in the cold room.
‘What’s going on’? He tried to ask a store worker who briefly entered the chilly area. The worker didn’t hear him, and the little pumpkin felt scared for the first time in his career. Why wouldn’t anyone talk to him? All the veg beside him was quiet, and seemed resigned to their fate. Presently his cart was wheeled outside, and he squinted in the sudden, dazzling light. A store worker was apparently giving all the veg in the crates to a huge, hairy man in a green fleece. The man seemed cheerful, and his very loud voice echoed throughout the store. The hairy man was thanking the worker for the new ‘donation’.
At this, all the veg perked up. What could be afoot? This didn’t sound like a skip with dogs nosing around it. Everyone waited to see what would happen next.
What happened next was the hairy man, still laughing with a woman who seemed to be helping him, taking the crates and laying them out beside the store wall. The little pumpkin watched while his new vegetable friends were loaded into many, many bags which were lined up behind the crates. Every now and then a passing shopper would stop and ask what was going on, and one or the other would say with a smile;
‘Welcome to the ‘Cook-Inn’ Fresh Food Bank’!
Pretty soon, even the little pumpkin had been assigned to a veg bag. He lay there between a couple of carrots, some potatoes and half a savoy cabbage he hadn’t seen before. This didn’t feel like Halloween preparations. Trying to conceal his disappointment, the little pumpkin tried to make conversation. It transpired that the savoy had seen this sort of thing before.
‘Last week’, she informed her bag-mates, ‘The same crowd picked up my ex. I hope he isn’t still in here, somewhere’.
A voice came from a nearby bag; ‘If he is, he’ll be liquid by now! He was pretty ripe when he left the store’.
The poor savoy shuddered. Even though he’d been unfaithful to her with another green vegetable, she didn’t wish that fate on him. The littlest pumpkin tried to un-hear their conversation. He felt he was too young for this sort of thing.
Soon, all the bags were transferred to one car or another. Then; disaster! The car had driven out into traffic. The little pumpkin helplessly found himself rolling out of his bag as the vehicle turned a corner. Ignored, he lay there while all the bags were doled out to their referred homes. What on earth would happen to him now?
‘Good luck’! Came the voice of the savoy, as she and her friends were carried out to a home in Wallyford. Alone now, the pumpkin let himself cry.
Suddenly there was a flurry of activity in the front of the car. The woman in the team was asking the man if he could double back and deliver to the house they’d missed.
‘Where’s the last bag’? She was wondering. Hidden under the seat next to him was a blue ’10p’ carrier bag, loaded with some vegetables the pumpkin hadn’t seen before. He rolled out hopefully. The hairy man was there, and picked him up for inspection. ‘What about this’? He asked.
‘Bung it in’ the woman suggested. ‘Someone can make a very small lantern’.
And that was exactly what little Cathy did!
Janine, Duncan, and The A Team. xx