Pumpkin plants. Pumpkin ice cream. Toasted pumpkin seeds. Baked pumpkins.
I left his house certain I would never again touch anything relating to pumpkins for the rest of my life.
I had no strong feelings about pumpkins, until George forced me to explore every possible way one could ingest them. In fact, ingesting wasn’t all we did. Us kids climbed to the top of his shed and yelled “we love pumpkins!” at the helicopter George hired to fly above us and videotape the word PUMPKIN spelled out with, pumpkins. After that day of gardening, eating, and posing for pictures, George had finished his first book, Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden.
After a while Pumpkins faded to a second rate love. They grew in his backyard, but his new infatuation was paper cranes. George made a movie, Sadaku and the Thousand Paper Cranes. Sadaku is a young girl who contracts leukemia after the Hiroshima bombing. She hears about an ancient Japanese legend. According to the legend, if she folds a thousand paper cranes, the Gods will grant her the wish of being well again. George folded many cranes; he never made it to one thousand. Last Hanukah George’s wife Vikki brought us all a 4″ by 4″ square of shiny oriental paper so that we could fold cranes like George used to make us.
I kept track of his death in terms of Christmas.
The first year was normal. He walked around the annual party, told everyone Hanukkah stories, and once again conned my dad into singing “On the First Night of Christmas”.
The next year he had a walker. It looked misplaced on his fifty-so year-old frame. He still traveled around, but his singing didn’t quite carry that compelling thunder it used to. It drained him to go through the whole party, but it was obvious from his squinty eyed, ear-to-ear smile that he would be going to bed late tonight.
The next year he didn’t move. He sat on a couch while people alternated sitting next to him. He had a blanket wrapped around him and when he pulled me close and told me how beautiful my sister and I were, his hand was cold and weaker than usual.
The last year was the worst. Unable to sit upright for long periods of time, George lay on a massage table in his den. When I walked in alongside my mom and sister, the first things I saw were his toes. They stuck out from under a ratty pink blanket, all knobby and hairy. Mom latched onto them right away.
She rubbed the too tight looking skin on his feet as he raved about what spectacular people we were. His head struck me as overly large for his frail body. He had lost most of his weight, leaving muscle and bone. There were two rings like the ones they use in a circus strung to the ceiling above his head so that he could pull himself into a sitting position to eat. His face was gaunt, but he thrived on the constant flow of people coming in to talk to him, or hold his hand.
George lived with cancer for four years, refusing treatment. He finally gave in February 14 2007. You had to fight to get a seat at his funeral.
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