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December 10, 2016
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The hunt for red October

New generation Toy Story joins old school Alice & friends (next photo) at the Iron Kettle as I search for the elusive great pumpkin.

It took a while, but I have finally figured it out. It’s not my popularity that draws so many visitors to the front door, but rather the Upper Delaware valley, and the allure of country life, that keeps my phone ringing year ‘round with visitors, looking to soak up some local color.

Last week, I had friends in from California, in search of fall foliage. As I toured them around the Catskills, they were mesmerized by the many hues the trees take on at this time of year, but never stopped looking for “just the right shade of red” as we stopped along the way, snapping pictures and sipping cider, admiring the rainbow of maples and oaks in sharp contrast to the many evergreens that serve to highlight the autumnal landscape.

While my pals were scanning the horizon for blood-red leaves, I was on my own quest: in search of the perfect pumpkin. Starting with Pumpkinfest last week in Barryville, NY, I was initially frustrated that there were so few to choose from. Advised that the heavy summer rains and occasional hurricane had caused the crops to suffer greatly this year, I was reminded that that my childhood Finger Lakes locale was (IMHO) never lacking in all things October, so packed a bag, threw the dog in the truck and headed off for wine country.

Fall was always my favorite time of year, and the memories of apple picking, corn husk dolls and pumpkin farms still can elicit a strong sense memory, so I was sure that a trip upstate would not disappoint. Wending my way through Owego and headed for Ithaca, I wondered if it was possible that the “Great Pumpkin” still thrived at the Iron Kettle Farm (www.ironkettle in Candor, NY. Fighting the urge, I eschewed my customary internet search, determined to see if I could still find the place, after all these years.

I did not check a map and don’t have a GPS, instead deciding to test my failing memory and see if the brain would take me home, via country roads. The colors (including red) were peaking

throughout Broome County and I had to pull off the road a few times to soak it all in (and take snapshots, regardless of the rain) as I steered toward Tioga and Thompkins counties, respectively. My heart fluttered a bit as I flew past the old ice cream parlor—still going strong, giving me hope that Charlie Brown and company would appear out of the mist, just around the bend.

It did not escape my attention that the rest of the state had also suffered at the hands of Mother Nature, while driving through the rolling hills. A lack of roadside stands, usually overloaded with produce (and pumpkins!) was discernible, although possibly not to the city slickers that scoured the farms, camera-phones working overtime, as they searched for the elusive cell tower signal.

Keeping an eye on the mighty Susquehanna, I spied it off in the distance. My precious Iron Kettle had (thoughtfully) mounted signs along the way, advising that the pumpkin farm was still there, waiting for me with open arms. Ok, I’ll admit I became a tiny bit verklempt as I pulled off the road, steadying myself for a blast from the past—wondering if time had exaggerated what I recalled as a magical, fantastical romp through a storybook adventure, narrated through the eyes of a pumpkin. As kids, we would marvel at the detail of never-ending dioramas of nursery rhymes, fairy tales and fables that were brought to life every year via the painstaking efforts of the farm hands. Cinderella, Jack and the beanstalk, the three little pigs and of course, the Wizard of Oz still resonated after decades, and I steeled myself to not be let down.

Mobs of children scampering through the now incredibly extensive display enveloped me in the fantasy and again, I wiped away a tear. It was all there, bigger and better than anything I could have hoped for, weaving its spell over a new generation. I ran into some childhood friends who had made the trek with their grandchildren (OMG!) to share their own memories and scour the patch for the elusive pumpkin that awaits us all.

The stories have changed (although Goldilocks, Alice in Wonderland and the Peanuts gang were still there). I found Harry Potter and the Toy Story characters mixed in with (at last!) Dorothy and the Tin Man, who suggested that I go home, whispering in my ear that “if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire, I need never look further than my own back yard—for if it isn’t there, I never really lost it.”

With no shortage of perfect pumpkins right here in Sullivan County, I’m headed out, knowing that I’ll find just what I’m looking for—right in my own back yard.