Saralee Perel

Bob's Own Spring Ritual

This extraordinary season of rebirth is commemorated in our house by the annual ceremony I call, "The Sowing of the Seeds of Death." My husband, Bob, becomes super-focused on his own version of nature's way of procreation — making new life from dead prize-winning giant pumpkins.

"In this hallowed earth," he said today, while planting three pumpkin seeds in little pots, "new life will be born."

He buys seeds that come from genetically designed enormous pumpkins. (I can't help comparing a guy who sells seeds from his giant pumpkin to a guy who sells other lineage-related stuff at a fertility clinic.)

Although Bob is a nurturer at heart, every April, any seeds that have sprouted suddenly drop dead. Like the symbolism of this season, he engages in a period of mourning and then renewal, as he begins the seedling planting process again — and again.

Last week, when the first batch of sprouted pumpkin seeds died, I gently said, "Sweets, I'm afraid the seeds didn't make it."

He hung his head. "It's all my fault. If only I had paid more attention to them when they were growing up."

"Don't blame yourself. It was their time. There was nothing you could have done to save them. It's better this way, while they still had their dignity."

For many years, there has been a giant pumpkin contest at the Harvest Festival held at the Barnstable County Fairgrounds in the fall. Bob hopes to compete. Freud would have had a field day with the male contenders, whose drive, he'd likely think, has to do with who has the biggest — whatever.

Last summer, Bob finally got a pumpkin to grow. Every morning, I'd hear him outside murmuring sweet nothings to his plant. Like an expert, he did the pollinating himself. He took the pollen from the male flower and carefully put it in the stamen of the female flower. Even when I've made a romantic evening with a candlelit supper and a Tony Bennett CD, I've never gotten anywhere near the attention that his pumpkins do.

Bob's nurturing spirit is a wonderful part of him. He puts the same attention and love into tending to his plants as he does to taking care of our dog, Becky, our cats, Murphy and Persy, and our 22-year-old pet duck, Grant.

This year has been very hard, as we're grieving for our dog, Gracie. I tell him frequently, "All of her 16 years were happy and grand because you were her adoring guardian. You helped her live this life and you helped her leave this life with more kindness and compassion than anyone could imagine."

Bob is the quintessential caregiver. What makes him feel blessed more than anything else? The rewards inherent in seeing his progeny not only grow up but thrive.

Let's hope this year that includes a giant pumpkin.