Halloween is here, and when we think of Halloween, we think of pumpkins, which are big vegetables; and when we think of big vegetables, we must, as responsible citizens, resist the childish temptation to make gratuitous references to the vice president.
So instead let's focus our attention on the World Pumpkin Confederation. This is a real organization that I found out about when alert reader Paula Linter sent me a letter stating that her husband had become obsessed with growing an enormous pumpkin in their back yard.
"I should have had a clue," she writes, "when the pumpkin began to dominate conversations with friends and family."
Paula adds: "There is a club where seemingly normal people get together and weigh their giant vegetables. We are now members. He sent money for this."
This club turns out to be the World Pumpkin Confederation. Paula sent me a WPC newsletter, and it is the finest publication I have ever seen that is devoted to the topic of growing enormous pumpkins. It has, for example, a detailed article entitled "Fertilizing With Bat Guano." But the most impressive part is the photographs: page after page of people standing proudly next to pumpkins that are significantly larger than Charles Kuralt.
I called the World Pumpkin Confederation founder and president, Ray Waterman of Collins, N.Y. He told me that the WPC has 2,000 members from 30 nations.
"Basically," he said, "we're in this to grow the largest possible pumpkin."
Ray Waterman has grown a pumpkin weighing more than 600 pounds. The world record is more than 800 pounds.
But that's not good enough for the growers of the WPC. Their goal -- their quest, their obsession, their Mount Everest -- is the 1,000-pound pumpkin.
Each year the WPC sponsors an annual weigh-off, featuring cash prizes, at official sites around the world; each year, the winning weights creep closer to the Big Mother Pumpkin. Whoever finally grows it will be, quite simply, a legend.
Of course when the emotional stakes are this high, you inevitably have conflict. There was, for example, the incident at the 1989 WPC All New England Weigh-off, held in Topsfield, Mass. According to the WPC newsletter, the weigh-off went normally until the arrival of Robert Gancarz, a New Jersey resident who at the time just happened to be the defending world record holder. He trucked in a pumpkin weighing 619.5 pounds -- the heaviest at Topsfield. But some other competitors, objecting to an "outsider" competing, threatened to walk out. With trouble brewing and the press on the scene, the local WPC official asked Gancarz to withdraw his pumpkin in an effort, as the newsletter puts it, "to defuse an inflammatory situation and to stem possible international embarrassment for the WPC."
Gancarz did withdraw his pumpkin, even though, under WPC rules, he was allowed to compete wherever he chose. This incident outraged WPC President Ray Waterman, who declared
Gancarz the Topsfield winner. Waterman still sounded ticked off when I asked him about this.
"Those people in New England are fruity," he said. "They bounced out the world record holder! They're out of the World Pumpkin Confederation. If you don't have any more brain cells than that, you don't belong in a world organization."
Waterman also has strong views on other topics, including the sloppy way some organizations establish "world records" in the vegetable arena.
" 'The Guinness Book of World Records,' " he snorts, "is listing a 66-pound cucumber that's actually a gourd."
Blunt words? Yes. But sometimes blunt words are needed. In a world of mealy mouthed mumblers, Ray Waterman's voice rings out loud and clear, sounding the charge as the WPC seeks to go where no gardener has gone before. You can become part of this by sending $15 to the World Pumpkin Confederation, 14050 Gowanda State Road, Collins, N.Y. 14034. The newsletter alone is worth it. You can also buy official T-shirts, caps, etc. And who knows: You might even grow an actual pumpkin.
"Even if you don't have much space," Waterman notes, "you can compete in the Long Gourd category."
Waterman has the world record here, with a gourd measuring 8 feet, 3 inches. To give you a totally non-gratuitous idea of how long that is, if you were to lay such a gourd down next to the vice president, you would have a very strong ticket for 1996.