Roy Exum: An Autumn Afternoon

Thursday, October 29, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

There is a new USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll just out that tells us with Tuesday’s election almost here, three of every four voters are most worried about post-election violence. What is the world have we done to find ourselves here? That our United States is horribly divided is a given, which it shouldn’t be at all. I glory in the fact so many Americans are willing to patiently wait in long lines for their votes to be counted – this has historically done the most to better our country – and I, for one, am ready to stand for America regardless of the outcome.

Yesterday afternoon, this several hours after the sun broke through and bathed a perfect autumn afternoon, I sat on my porch and watched a 10-or-11-year-old girl skip in front of my house on her way home.

The kid was by herself, and her dance confirmed she was happy, safe, and probably headed home for dinner.

Man, it was like a Norman Rockwell painting, the slanting sun rays coloring the fallen leaves just so, and her shadow long. Yet as corny as this may well be, it was as if my faith in our nation was magically restored after I’d spent my morning readings agonizing over the American people’s pain earlier in the day. Everywhere I look people are anxious, concerned, and fraught with worry.

C’mon, this is Halloween Eve. My pal Paul Barys, the ageless weather-guesser at WRCB, has assured me the first day of “sweater weather” will make its debut today and even with the COVID spike, Saturday is chocolate’s favorite day with its call sign, "Trick or Treat?” There is a bonus in that this Saturday we will delight in the sky above. What the Indians called “The Hunter Moon” will be spectacular in the Halloween night sky, too, so allow me to bask in the glory of this weekend.

I am a huge fan of “Guideposts” magazine (, which still inspires me every month, as it has done for many years. As I push away this week’s negative stories, the seemingly-endless angst, and the sad from my computer screen, let me share a recent story, “The Great Pumpkin Angel,” because it reminds me of far gentler times and many of my own rich memories. You’ll see …

* * *


By Joan Sanchez

(NOTE: This story appeared in a Guideposts ‘sister publication,’ called “Angels on Earth,” and was included in the magazine’s October 2020 newsletter.)

October is usually a happy time for me—my grandchildren, Daniel, and Carly, get all excited about Halloween. They spend weeks beforehand discussing their costumes and dreaming of all that candy.

More than anything else, though, they love pumpkins. And not just any pumpkins. They wanted the ones grown by their great-aunt Margaret. What would my grandkids do this first Halloween after she died?

I liked to joke that my sister Margaret had a soft spot for those kids—the compost pile in her backyard. That's where the pumpkins grew. And she and the kids tended to them, slipping an upside-down pie pan under each one so it wouldn't rot sitting on the ground.

Whenever I picked up my grandchildren and took them to visit Margaret, they'd barely say hello before bursting out into the yard to see what was going on in their "pumpkin patch." They harvested them and used the big ones for carving into jack-o'-lanterns.

I didn't know why or how pumpkins grew in a compost heap, of all places. Margaret never planted seeds. Maybe she'd thrown an old pumpkin out there one year. She had a green thumb, though. She could have dug a hole, dropped in a worm, and ended up growing a rose bush.

I envied her gardening skills. If only I had inherited Margaret's abilities after she passed away.

Halloween without Margaret's pumpkins, Lord? I prayed one night. I wished there were some other way to make the day special. To let Daniel and Carly know their great-aunt's spirit lived on.

Next day I went to visit the kids. I can help them with their costumes, I thought. That'll be something, at least. "Hi!" I said, opening the door.

As soon as I walked in they said the quickest hello before shouting, "Grandma! Grandma! Come and see!"

"See what?"

"Just come!" they said, grabbing my hands and dragging me with them. We went outside. There, right on the side of the house, were half-a-dozen pumpkins. All plump and orange, with vines trailing everywhere. Growing in a spot where nothing had ever been planted.

I said, "You know what Aunt Margaret would do if she were here..." We all raced to the kitchen to get some pie pans. The biggest and best got turned into jack-o'-lanterns. The rest decorated the front porch. And they lasted for months, an autumn-long reminder for my two little pumpkin patch kids.

* * *

Don’t tell me about angels. I know where those pumpkins came from. And it is with that inner sense I know not to worry what next week might hold. Instead, I glory in the afternoon I so wonderfully just enjoyed.

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