Click to hear Andy Griffith describe a similar event.
This post is probably a better fit for October, but I’m in the mood for writing it now, so I’m writing it.
October 1974, I was a freshman at Oregon State. I lived at Dixon Lodge, and had just moved in the first of that month. I had been at Dixon long enough to have a pretty good sense of my fellow Dixon Lodgers. Most were good sorts. Rambunctious some, yeah. Bit of a rascal in some of them, sure.
They considered the few encounters with campus police to be somewhat of a friendly contest. (Now, I’m sure the campus police had a different viewpoint). But their scrapes with the campus police were on the order of pranks, not crimes: using a 2×4 hooked to the flag lanyard to put a garbage can over top of a flag pole at night. A sea lion head in one of the barrels scattered around campus from which folks would pick up the campus newspaper. And, of course, the odd parking ticket or two.
OSU MU Quad - click for OSU website
I trusted these guys. I trusted their basic sense of right and wrong. They came from farming, logging backgrounds. So when we were told that we were all going out to steal pumpkins for our pumpkin carving function with Azalea House (the women’s co-op next door), I was taken aback. They were stealing from the farmers, that just wasn’t right! No, I couldn’t go. I had to study, I had a
date, I was visiting friends – anything to avoid going out and stealing. No excuse was good enough for John Joiner, or “Dad” Joiner as he became known. He badgered me and wheedled and pushed, until he finally wore me down, and I went, unhappily, but I went along.
Jimmy Hill had acquired a couplle of jugs of raw apple cider from the Food Tech building across
Wiegand Hall - Food Tech - click to see what makes it famous
campus. They had been sitting next to the baseboard heater for a few days,, and had fermented just enought for a bit of sparkle in the cider. Jimmy brought the jugs along, they were passed around, and I had my share. But I wasn’t too keen on this expedition. I tried to keep my mind off the purpose of the trip by listening to the jokes and stories, sipping cider, and enjoying the breeze in my face as we bumped along the country roads in the back of Joiner’s pickup. From time to time I looked up at the full moon and wondered what I was going to do.
NOT harvested pumpkin patch - click for some punkin stealin' music
Joiner turned onto a dirt road, followed by Gordy Locke in his pickup, also loaded with eager pumpkin thieves. Wait! what was this? I knew a harvested field when I saw one, and these fields we were passing through were harvested. Grain stubble on the left and…was it, could it be…yes! That was a harvested pumpkin field on the right, a small, lonely pumpkin lying here and there. Whew! I breathed a big sigh of relief! I wasn’t going to
harvesting pumpkins - see the area where the truck is driving? It was like that only just dirt!
participate in a thieving raid, my faith in my new friends had been instantly restored. We were only gleaning, and they had just been calling it stealing to add a little spice and adventure to the night’s activities. I relaxed and began to enjoy the night, all of it, the moon, the fresh air, the cider, the special smell a stubble field has on a warm night, all of it.
The pickups finally stopped by a big pile of pumpkins in the corner
Stubble field - click to see the smashed pumpkin
of a field. These were obviously leftovers that weren’t worth hauling off. We jumped out and started tossing pumpkins into the backs of the pickups. “Wait!” Joiner hollered, “These aren’t the good pumpkins!, the good ones are out in the field!” I looked down at the pumpkin in my hand. It looked fine to me, so did all the others in the pile. I kept tossing them into the truck.
THEN! Lights blazed, engines raced, guns were fired, there was hootin’ and hollerin’ (hooting and hollering is just wrong, isn’t it?) and a couple of spotlight beams swept back and forth across the chaos! Gordy fell back into the bed of his pickup, “I’m hit!” he said and pulled his hand away from his face, smeared with blood. The other side of his face was spattered with blood, like he’d taken some shotgun pellets to the head. Now it became something far more serious than a high-jinks outing! This was serious! “Stop!” I holllered, “He’s hit! He’s hit” But the guys behind the spotlights kept laughing and shouting and shooting. “They’re crazy”, I thought and I knelt beside Gordy as he lay against the pumpkins piled at the front of the pickup bed. Someone jumped into the driver’s seat, and started up the engine with a roar. I saw the white letters above the rear window of Gordy’s custom pink pickup – “Jesus Saves” flashed, white-on-pink each time the spotlights swept by. “I sure hope so” I said to myself and prayed that Gordy’s injuries were minor, but I wasn’t very hopeful. We left the din and chaos and destruction behind us as the pickup raced up the dirt road we had just come down, throwing billows of ghostly dust clouds into the moonlit night. We finally stopped at a big old oak tree, and the farmers seemed to shink back into the night as things suddenly went quiet.
I was just getting my heartbeat back to normal after such a narrow escape, and Gordy was saying his was fine, just nicked, when John Joiner started preaching mission and destiny and revenge. “They’ve gone back to their houses” he ranted. “They think they’ve scared us off. But, by golly, this just makes me mad, and more determined than ever.” Eyes lit with hope and growing fervor started following John while he paced back and forth in front of the motley crowd.
“No they haven’t!” I countered. “They caught us once, and they’ll be up all night laying for us to come back again!” I knew, I’d been on the other side. I knew what stirred in a farmer’s belly when somebody tried to steal his crop from the field he had sweat and labored over for the past year. I knew they were still out there in the dark, waiting. But my voice fell on deaf ears, John held them all in thrall, and Pied Piper like, he led them back down that self-same dirt road that was playing such a big part in the night’s drama. I sat on the tailgate of one of the pickups and watched all of my new friends and brothers marching to their doom. Something, something I didn’t understand then, and not really now, but something compelled me to join them. Not because I was eager to steal pumpkins or get back at the farmers, NO! I was certain something bad was gonna happen. I had seen the cold viciousness of our foes, when they laughed and pursued and fired whle Gordy fell back, dangerously wonded, against that pile of pumpkins. I understood protecting their crops, but not their joy in hurting someone. They didn’t care if Gordy had been hit…no, take that back, they cared, they were delighted that they’d hit one of us. They didn’t care a fig about Gordy or his wounds.
No, I went because I needed to be there. If something bad was going to happen, I needed to be there to help my buddies, not sitting on the tailgate of a pink pickup, dangling my legs, while everyone else were being slaughtered, too far away for the white painted words of salvation on the cab behind me to do much good.
So I followed, hustling to catch up. Dreading every step, sure it was leading to my doom…or at least to something that was going to hurt bad, one way or the other. I knew that before the dawn broke, I would either be dead or in jail – and I wasn’t sure which I preferred.. Dead was dead, but jail meant I would have to answer to my father, and how was I going to explain to my hard working farmer of a dad that I, born and raised on a farm, had been stealing pumpkins?
I finally caught up with the foolish bunch, laughing, yakking, joking, eager to show those farmers a thing or two. I didn’t say a word, unusual for me, because I had already tried to warn them of what was ahead, to no avail. So I plodded along, trying to figure out a way to minimize the coming carnage, as we marched into the valley of death.
Reaching the field, I braced myself…nothing! We ventured further into enemy territory; I was looking everywhere at once, trying to see the attack as early as possible…nothing! Maybe the farmers in Oregon were different from those I grew up around in California, maybe they were sitting back, snug in their house with a couple bottles of whiskey and many stories of their exploits that night.
Just as I relaxed, thinking the fellows would pick up a few more pumpkins and we could go, BANG! Bright headlights, sweeping spotlights, shots and shouts and laughter accompanied by the bass rumble of powerful pickup engines as we all scattered like quail across the bare fiield.
I was in a prison-escape movie. Running as hard as I could in the darkness, diving to the dirt as a spotlight swept over me, then up and running again. Whirling, shouting, lights spinning, guns blazing, shouts, cries - CHAOS! I thought I would be caught at any second, but until I was immobilized, I was surviving. I could see the dark treeline in the distance that marked a river or creek, and I reckoned that the trees and brush and water afforded better chances of survival than the bare dirt I was running and sprawling on. Up, run, dive, lay still, up and run again. Over and over…then wait! right in my path was a HUGE pumpkin. NOW I was ready to take it. Some residual thread of defiance, assertion of self, in the midst of complete anarchy. I would be chased off, yes – but I would nevertheless return home with a prize – IF I returned home. Picking up the pumpkin, I ran, no, I jigger-jogged. Pumping my legs as hard and as fast as I could, holding the pumpkin, more than 2 feet in diameter, in front of me, I looked like a desperate, very pregnant woman moving forward as fast as possible while cradling her belly with its precious cargo in her arms – jigger-jogging.
So now it was up with the pumpkin, jigger-jog as hard as I could, throw myself face to the ground with the pumpkin stretched forward of my head until the light passed over, then up, scooping the pumpkin and jigger-jogging toward the distant tree line. Over and over and over. Shorter distances between dives, because my mobility had been seriously diminished.
I calculated one more hard run would take me to the trees – I was up with my pumpkin, and just approaching cruise speed when a 3 foot blue flame belched out from the trees, accompanied by a thunderous boom! I don’t believe I have ever been so terrified in all of my life! I dove into a weed covered ditch to hide from that dragon’s tongue. Luckily it was dry; I could not afford the
Yes - cannon Click for more cannon information
luxury of checking relative humidity before seeking refuge. I had no idea if the cannoneers had seen me or not (Cannon, to guard pumkins? Really?) but I wasn’t taking chances. I burrowed deeper into the weedy ditch. Then I spied Greg Strausbaugh kneeling beside the dirt road that the farm-truck cavalry was using for positioning their next assault. “Psssst!”, I was desperate, “Straus, get down!” He ignored me or didn’t hear me. My motivation was survival, not brotherly concern. Strausbugh would draw the attention of the attackers, and I was scant distance from Straus – they would surely see me too! I started inching away from Strausbaugh, dragging my 3X-Large pumpkin with me. The pickups rumbled by, stopping neither for Greg or myself. Finally, picking up my pumpkin I continued down the same road, trudging in the deep dark behind the headlight cones of intense brightness.
The pickups increased the distance rapidly, and soon I was walking along in silence and solitude…and dark. It felt safe in the dark. Circling around the back side of the field (I had charged into the mouth of the cannon directly away from Gordy’s pink pickup), I was finally on the home stretch – only about a mile to go to the extraction poiint. As I made my way toward safety and home, I ventured a smile of relief and exhultation – I was going to make it! Then headlights flashed on and swept in a brilliant arc toward me, a darkened pickup lighting up as it turned onto the road behind me. I rushed into the stubble field on my right. The same stubble field that offered me reassurance as we arrived so long ago, was now giving me safe haven as I tried to leave this killing field.
Deep into the stubble field, I began hearing the cries, back and forth, of our two Venezuelan cohorts. Trying to be helpful with my rusty spanish I yelled, “Marcha a la luna”; trying to get them to move toward the moon – but telling them to walk to the moon- which was lowering toward the western horizon. West, toward pink pickups and salvation. Soon, the slogging through the stubble became too tiresome, so I moved back onto the easier walking afforded by the road. Still carrying my pumpkin, I was thinking about what a great hero I would be, emerging from the smoke of battle with such a glorious prize! When again, lights boomed on behind me! Scampering into the stubble field again, like a frightened deer, I tripped on the rough ground and went down. Down full onto my great pumpkin, smashed across my chest. Nothing of glory and greatness now but pumpkin mush and a few stringy seeds smeared across the front of my shirt.
Tired of the stubble trek again, like the Kipling fool’s wobbling finger, I went back to the road, meeting up with Lester Suzaki on the way. Les and I marched forward in silence, grateful for company after terrified isolation. Again lights swept into position behind us. We both thew ourselves to our left (both tired of fighting the stubble field – at least I was), and through a blackberry hedge. Evidently our leap was through a gap in the hedge, because neither of us were scratched. But I don’t remember seeing a gap there, only a frantic desire to put the screen of blackberry bushes between me and that INFERNAL road!
We walked to the end of the blackbeerry hedge where stood the big, old oak, under which Gordy’s pink pickup and Joiner’s blue one, sat waiting to take us to home and safety. As we rounded the end of the blackberrys, my fright-numbed mind was slow in registering the sheriff’s cruiser, the police car and two or three strange pickups and faces and guns that were parked and milling about under the tree. I numbly stumbled forward, tired of the chase and willing for my fate. Les was evidently of a similar frame of mind.
When the gathered group noticed us, they burst out in laughter, slapping each other on the shoulders and bending over at the waist to better gather the deep guffaws they bellowed into the night air. There were the faces I saw behind the spotlights! Law enforcement was chuckling! There was Gordy, without a scratch!
Dixon Lodge - click for website. WAS a men's house, then co-ed, NOW all women...because of stuff like stealing pumpkins.
We - Lester Suzaki, the Venezualens, I and all the other freshmen had just been initiated into Dixon Lodge.