When I think of pumpkins, I think of old people.
Not in a way like wrinkled or static like pumpkins old people. More like grandma’s warm kitchen, her old wood burning stove and yellow pyramides of pumpkin slices in the oven. It must be winter, at least I think so, because the stove is so hot and the air is moving around it, it seems like stove is moving itself. Everything is possible when you are a child, there are lots of things you cannot explain to yourself when you are a child, so you are coming up with your own little crazy theories. So I guess, the stove is dancing with joy. And grandma is old, everything around her is old but somehow still alive and functional just because she’s using it. And when she no longer does, it’ll desintegrate, or just cover itself with rust and die.
And so it was and it happened so when she died. She wasn’t all that old, but that’s what I remember. Old things, my father’s old slippers she wore, her old pots and pans, saucers with no pairs in cups, spoons and scissors. Everything she was using died too. I managed to rescue few random things. I scrubbed the rust off of and caressed with soft cloth, but in vain. Her things, her forks and strainers just wanted to die. And what once were dry herbs hanging in little bushes in the narrow hallway, now refused to be tea for anyone but her. And got even drier and died.
Nice memory, my grandma and all. She baked slices of pumpkin often. It was such a joy to come and poke a hole with a little spoon and release trapped steam from soft, silky, heavenly orange pumpkin flesh. Baked pumpkin reminds me of sunset. Colours and all. Going away. End of the day. I think my grandma died and went to some silky, soft, orange pumpkin scented heaven. At least that’s what makes me feel good to think, so I think of it that way.
There was an old man in my town. Every day, be the noon in the summer heat or streets locked in white, sharp ice, he went around the neighbourhood, in his own schedule and reason, and collected plastic bottles from garbage bins. In Croatia, for every plastic bottle you’ll get a few pennies in recycling places. So he went for plastic bottles, for a few pennies. Once I asked him, do you need bottles? And he said, yes. He was pretty deaf, I gathered, because he was leaning his ear toward me and stearing in my face. Come with me, I waved with my hand toward him, I have bottles. I’ll give you bottles. So we went.
One would think that an old man would go slowly. At least, you should not go too fast, so the old man doesn’t get tired, right? So I was going slowly. And he wanted to go faster. He was fast, that old man. Am I going too fast? asked I. No, said he, I can walk. Not like I used to, because the car hit me few years ago. The car hit you? asked I. Yes, said he, so I cannot go as fast as I could before.
So we came to my place and I gave him a big plastic bag full of bottles. I was lazy to go recycling so the pile went higher and higher. So I gave him everything. Thank you, his eyes opened toward me, and he made a little bow. Thank you. And then he left, as fast as he came.
Later on I didn’t go recycling plastic bottles because I wanted to give it to this old man. The pile was piling higher and I knew that I’ll meet this old man just in right time. And I did. And again I said, do you need bottles? I have bottles, come with me. But this time, I asked. I asked what I thought was important. I said, how old are you? 85, said he. And yet, said I, every day you go about, in the heat, in the rain, in the wind or snow, you go and collect bottles. Yes, said he, as peacefully as 2 + 2 are 4. I want to work, said he. I need to work. I have two sons. Accomplished people, good people. I spent my life working. I have two degrees, you know? In economics and theology, said he. I need to work.
Then I looked him straight in the eye, stopping a little, just to be sure he’ll hear what I’m about to ask. You are 85, said I. You’ve seen the world and times. So if you could go again, if you were given a chance to live again, would you have done it differently?
No, said he sharply. No. Life is good. Life is great. Life is precious, you know? One should live, one should work, one should give all of his strenght in his efforts and doings. I don’t deplore anything. Except, war. War is bad. Military is bad. Those years no one can repay me.
I have only one more question, said I. Very important one, thought I, because I was feeling and indeed was very low at the time. The world and life did not love me. Or I thought so. So I said, now that you’ve seen 85 years of world, time and people, what do you think – is life good? Is world a good place?
In blink of an eye, with silvery sparks in his silvery blue eyes, the old man exclaimed, yes! Oh, yes. Life is good. Life IS good. And the world IS a nice place. Except war. Those years no one can repay me.
Then he left me in silence and rushed before me, for he already knew which way my place was. He was deaf again. He was busy living, walking, collecting bottles, not because he needed pennies, but because he needed to work. In my own self pittyness I was gobsmacked so got a little behind him. Life is good? This old, broken man that runs like crazy thinks this world IS a good place to be, have children, enjoy, work and have fun running around after being 85 and hit by a car?
Good lesson that was, needless to say. Good one. I runned behind him, opened the door and gave him bottles. Thank you, said I, but he didn’t hear me. Thank you, said he, but he was all gone already.
It’s been a few months since I last saw him. I don’t think cold winter would bother him. I just think he is sick. Or rather, dead. He was too busy to be sick. Maybe he is not dead. I have a feeling he is, though. I’m sorry. I have more bottles for him. And questions too. When his time came, I think he just went to some other place, rushing fearlessly like he did on Earth. What’s to collect on the other side? I don’t know. I like to think that someone would bake a soft pumpkin for him to enjoy. And my grandma too. She loved that. I like to think that they are both in some orange, pumpkin like, soft and homelike heaven, served with pumpkins in old kitchen, where old things and people are new and alive again. Or not, but they don’t care.
Baked Pumpkin Soup
1 kg/4 1/2 cups butternut pumpkin, baked, seeded, peeled (around 2 kg of raw pumpkin)
1 small onion finely chopped
1 – 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped or garlic powder to taste
salt, pepper to taste
250 ml/1 cup coconut milk
vegetable broth if you want the soup thinner
some olive oil
Preheat your oven to 250°C/480F. Cut the pumpkin, take out the seeds. Cut in few slices. You can bake it with or without the peel. Arrange on baking paper on a baking sheet and bake about an hour or till the fork inserted into the pumpkin goes easily all the way down. Cool down a bit, take the brown bits and peel off. Put the pumpkin into a big bowl and smash it a bit. Set aside. On 2 – 3 tablespoons of olive oil saute the onions till translucent. Add the garlic and the moment it’s aroma hits you from the saucepan, take it off the heat, add pumpkins and stir. Add coconut milk, put back on the stove and stir some more till everything combines. It doesn’t have to boil, just warm it up nicely, because the pumpkin is already baked and onions sauteed. Season with salt, pepper and other seasonings to your taste (garam masala could do nice). With your blending machine or immersion hand blender puree the soup till smooth. If you want thinner consistency, add some vegetable broth and bring back to the heat. Serve immediately with love and homemade savoury granola. Or toasted bread. Or whatever you like. Greek yoghurt, perhaps?