Don’t just blossom when it’s time—you’ve got to nurture that bloom first. I can’t think of a better lesson I’ve learned about nurturing than the one that my Pop-Pop taught me when I was little.
I grew up a town over from one of the biggest fairs on the East Coast: the Bloomsburg Fair. When it was the fair stretch, we went multiple times during the week. I can’t remember a single year that I missed it when I lived in the area. Every few years, I still travel back for a fix of peach dumplings with cinnamon ice cream and hot sausage sandwiches smothered beneath fried onions and peppers. Fair food always tests best. It must be because it’s outside.
Aside from eating our way around the Fair, we always visited the indoor exhibitions. I can remember looking up at a sky of quilts and afghans in the Arts & Crafts Building, sharing a bag of fresh-roasted cashews with my parents, and looking for projects submitted by my classmates in the Educational exhibits.
But my favorite building was the Agricultural Building. I was fascinated by gigantic cucumbers and funnily-shaped tomatoes. I always looked for canned meats in the preserves section, and without fail thought that they seemed like a weird thing to put in a Mason jar. Why waste time on that when you could instead fill them with purple-red beets or the peach-colored white cherries that looked so good? I could imagine what the ones in Grandma’s basement would taste like when she opened a new jar for us in the coming winter.
The piece de resistance of the building, though, was the pumpkin section. Each year, huge pumpkins (which were usually bigger than I was) sat in an Astro-turf “field” on shelves for fair-goers to admire. And marvel I did—so much so that I asked my grandfather if we could try to grow our own so we could submit them to the Fair. Thank goodness he humored me as usual! The next summer—a terribly dry one—we tried to grow Atlantic Giants in the garden behind his apple trees. Every day we (or rather, he) lugged water in old gallon milk jugs to the little broad-leafed vines.
While I couldn’t help much with the heavy lifting as a little girl, I still learned the lesson my grandfather taught: You can’t expect something from nothing. While it’s hard to push all the time to get what you want, in the end, you have to put in the work to get the results you desire. Atlantic Giants might have been a lofty goal (the bigger of our two pumpkins weighed just over 100 pounds—no winner for the Fair by a long shot), but if you don’t aim big, who knows? If you keep trying, you might get that blue ribbon you want.