This story is the fourth one to my Squish-Squash, Pumpkins and Gourds Prompt Call.
Aunt Family, new characters.
“Those are heirloom gourds. Hi, I’m Millie! Just move in?”
The woman waving at Cordelia had clearly interpreted her confused gaze. She was standing in – well, probably in a patch of heirloom gourds. Her tiny city backyard was absolutely full of vines. Vines, and giant leaves, and, presumably, gourds somewhere in there, and in the middle of it, a woman in a green dress, her hair curled up on both sides of her head like Princess Leia. She’d been carefully picking over the vines when she saw Cordelia.
Who cleared her throat, feeling a little caught out. “Hi, yeah. Hi. We just moved in. Or, uh, I mean, we just bought the place, we’re not moved in yet. I…”
She waved the piece of fence she was holding as if that somehow explained things.
What she’d been doing had been trying to figure out why the former owner of the otherwise pretty nice place she & her husband now owned had decided they needed to put up a really ugly fence between their yard and what had turned out to be Millie’s yard.
“Yeah.” Millie made a face. “If you want to replace that with anything remotely less ugly, we’ll help you with it. I offered Jack, but he seemed to have no faith in my aesthetic opinions after I chose to fill the backyard with gourds instead of, I don’t know, peonies.”
“I think it looks nice.” Cordelia pulled down another piece of the fence. It really was ugly, and really badly put together.
She hesitated, though, looking at the fraction of a fraction of an acre covered in vines. “What’s it look like the rest of the year, though?”
“Well, in winter, it looks like everything else.” Millie winked at her, her amusement clear. “I’ve actually got pictures if you’d like. It seemed like this thing with Jack was going to turn into a bad seed, so I took a bunch of photos to prove that our yard wasn’t actually ugly. Want to see them?”
“No? Well, maybe,” Cordelia admitted.
“There’s about a week or two of hideous in late fall when it’s all brown and we’re waiting for it to die off before we harvest the last gourds. But in the spring, it looks like a whole lot of shallow pots in ground cover, crocuses, and mulch. After that, mostly the vines take over.”
The woman clearly knew her stuff, and clearly was expecting questions like this. Cordelia cleared her throat. “So… gourds, you said?”
“Heirloom gourds. And a few winter squash and one zucchini plant. Don’t worry, I won’t too many on your point.” She joked.
Oh yeah, people did that, didn’t they?
“Heirloom?” she managed.
That was all her new neighbor needed. “My family’s been growing these gourds for centuries. Some of my family has been growing them for a lot longer than that.
She smirked, sharing some inside joke that Cordelia didn’t quite get, but she continued, so Cordelia didn’t feel the need to insert any of her ignorance into the conversation.
“They grow better in family soil, of course, but the family decided that we ought to have a presence on this side of the city, so Lane and I moved here. We brought in a truckload of dirt from the farm and it’s worked like a charm.” She circled, gesturing around at the vines that spread everywhere, including climbing up parts of Jack’s ugly fence. Cordelia’s ugly fence.
“Family dirt?” She’d never even heard that phrase. Wait. Maybe something like it, a long time ago. “Family ground?”
Millie rewarded her with a brilliant smile.
“Exactly. Family ground. These gourds, they work better when they’re planted in family dirt. Let me tell you, it wasn’t fun getting a truckload of dirt back here. But it’s been worth it. Tell you what. They take about 5, six months to dry out properly, but I have a few I haven’t worked from last year still hanging. Come in in and I’ll give you one? Call it a house-warming present?
Cordelia had definitely heard of weirder house-warming gifts. And if accepting a gift — weird or no — helped her get along with at least one of their new neighbors, she was hardly going to say no to that.
“Sure, thanks! Do you want me to meet you around front?”
“Oh, no need.” Millie winked at her again, grabbed two boards in Jack’s awful fence (it seemed weird thinking of him as Jack; he’d been Mr. Tripper in all the paperwork and she’d never actually seen the man) — and pulled. They swung open like a door. “Come on through. And I promise, I never used this the other direction without an invitation. It’s just that Jack’s daughter would come over and we’d talk, and talking through the fence is, well, it’s like a bad comic.”
“It kind of is,” Cordelia agreed. She stepped through the fence-door, watching her footing, and noticed that there were a few rocks set so that the vines didn’t cover them quite so much. “Stepping stones. Clever.”
“Thank you.” Millie nearly preened. “This way. We hang them to dry in what was supposed to be a porch, I think.” The back stairs led to a small mudroom; the kitchen was visible through a door to the left. Cordelia, who was absolutely going to redo the kitchen with the money they’d saved buying in a neighborhood perceived as going downhill, not up, peeped shamelessly.
The look was as 50’s retro as Millie’s cute dress, white enamel everywhere and gingham curtains with apples embroidered on them.
“It’s a family thing.” Millie smiled warmly as she caught Cordelia peeking. “Here— this is the porch.”
The space had been enclosed and then turned into a sort of indoor gardening shed; in this warm day, all the windows were open, letting a breeze flow through. Along the ceiling three rows of decorative gourds hung from little wire harnesses.
“The trick is maximum airflow, preferably cool air for the first month or two so they don’t rot. We leave the windows open until the snow starts to fall, and this room isn’t as well insulated as the rest of the house anyway, so it stays crisp.” She looked over the gourds with a clearly assessing eye, brushed her hand over a couple, and pulled down one that was variegated so prettily it looked like a water-color. “This would be a ladle or a bowl, traditionally. We make salt-cellars out of them a lot of the time, or little catch-bowls.” She gave it a shake; it rattled beautifully. “Good, this is one of the good ones. Come on, you can admire our remodeling work in the kitchen while I cut this open for you. They’re tricky to open, but once there’s a little hole, you can do anything you want with them — or just hang it as-is to enjoy. Two holes and stick an air plant in it, that works too.”
Cordelia wasn’t sure she’d ever talked to someone who knew this much about gourds, but if her family really had been making them for centuries, it made sense. She obediently followed Millie into her kitchen — it was bigger than the one in Cordelia’s new house, even though the houses looked about the same on the outside — and brighter. “Did you add windows?”
“Guilty as charged.” She picked up a small tool — a miniature saw? — and began working carefully on the edge of the gourd, just where the roundest part met the stem. “We added two, the one over the sink looking onto Mrs. Brown’s house, and the one in the back there looking out on the garden.
And we took over half the dining room to make the kitchen big enough. The other half of the dining room went to the living room, and for now we have a fold-down table. If, when we have kids, we’re going to have to change that, but we’re planning on turning th … office? I think? into a dining room.” She laughed. “It’s like a sliding puzzle but with furniture and walls.” She finished her cut and ran a little sandpaper around the edges of the hole.
“I see a lot of that in our future, too. The rooms are so small, but there’s so many of them. We were thinking of turning three bedrooms into one actual master bedroom,” Cordelia admitted.
“See, we’re trying to see if we can get another bedroom upstairs. We want three kids,” Millie explained. “And we both grew up sharing rooms and hated it, so…”
“What about the attic? I mean-” Cordelia trailed off, because Millie was shaking the gourd.
“Oh, this is a good one.” Cordelia’s new neighbor grinned. “See, I told you they were heirloom gourds.”
She shook out – seeds? No, they were shaped sort of like seeds, but they were pearlescent. No, they were pearls. A double string of pearls, held together with a clasp at the center made of twists of gold around a blue-and-white stone.
“Oh, celestine.” Mille’s grin grew. “Good for balance. And sleep. Also very pretty.” She passed the necklace over to Cordelia.
“Is this – is this – how did you get this in there?” She turned the necklace over, looking at it. The pearls were all seed-shaped, although not as flat as pumpkin seeds. The stone and its gold setting were mostly symmetrical but seemed a bit organic at the same time.
“Heirloom gourds.” Millie chuckled a little, clearly pleased with herself. “Grown in family ground. You won’t always get something like this, of course, but the gourds really are good for any number of things.”
She handed Cordelia the gourd with its little hole cut near the stem. Cordelia, entirely at a lack for words, turned the necklace over and over again.
“Heirloom gourds. Welcome to the neighborhood!”
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