One of the many things I didn’t realize came packaged with American parenthood is a mania for pumpkin patches. They were invisible to me before I had Neil, but by the time I had Kelly, especially as she started learning to walk, I couldn’t get to them quickly or frequently enough during the Halloween season. The combination of oversized pumpkins and stacked up haybales is toddler nirvana, and the typical pumpkin patch includes a small selection of kiddie-friendly entertainments, such as a train ride and a maze of some sort. Best of all for new cash-strapped parents, most of the things the children love are free or cheap.
San Jose’s “biggest” pumpkin patch is just a few blocks from our house, but it’s quite small compared to the major pumpkin patches in the area. And believe me, we’ve visited them. We’ve been to Casa de Fruta, Swank Farms, and Ardenwood’s Maize. But the pumpkin patch of all pumpkin patches around here is the Uesugi Farms Pumpkin Patch in Morgan Hill. It’s an event not to be missed for South Bay parents.
In fact, it’s so intimidatingly huge that for the first few years of Neil’s life, we were perfectly fine at making do with our local pumpkin patch and Casa de Fruta. But when we finally ventured there, it was all it was rumored to be. It had a massive pumpkin patch, produce stands, a corn maze, a fairytale walk (at the end of which a child could pick a small pumpkin), and a spectacular pyramid made totally out of pumpkins. One year, I dared try the corn maze, thinking it would be fun to wander around and find my way out. I quickly discovered the map was a necessity, not an option, in threading the maze and finding my way out. Neil went with his cub scout troop one year and saw that year’s featured exhibition, namely old motors and appliances.
But the largest pumpkin patches also tend to be somewhat pricier; they demand more from your pocketbook not only for their rides but also for the souvenirs, candy, and parking. In one way, it’s to be expected: after all, at a certain point, they’re half amusement park as well as a place to buy pumpkins, but it does take away some of the charm.
In fact, I didn’t even intend to go to the Uesugi Farms pumpkin patch this year. But on Monday, my homeschooling group went to Ardenwood’s Maize in Fremont, and it was just delightful. The corn maze was neither too small and easy, nor too large and difficult; it took Kelly and me about 40 minutes to make our way through, which was an exceptionally good deal for the $3 price (a homeschool discount) we’d paid. And many forks in the maze had a quiz you could take to find out which direction you were supposed to go. Kelly answered the “tiny tot” questions and got them all right, except for one: she insisted Cinderella’s coach was originally a potato, not a pumpkin.
I had thought of taking Neil there on the weekend, but Shiaw-Ling also wanted to check out a maze, and she preferred the large, difficult ones at Uesugi Farms. Fair enough: a maze is still a maze, and Neil could test his map-reading skills. At the last minute, Shiaw-Ling had to bow out and take her brother to Chinese school instead, but since we had to go to Gilroy to get Neil’s scratched eyeglasses replaced, we figured we’d go to Uesugi Farms on the way back.
It was big before, but it’s even bigger now. Besides everything it had had before, it now also had a second train ride, a hay ride, a carousel, a magic show, and a Halloween boutique. And the corn maze, unfortunately, had been transformed into sort of a haunted house called “The Field of Screams.” Neil was having none of that, and our dreams of threading a maze were thwarted. We looked around Uesugi Farms, and enjoyed the hay bale walls and pumpkin pyramind, but it was just too overwhelming. I have a weird preference for my entertainments: when I feel like too many people have discovered a good thing, I don’t enjoy it as much any more. I feel that way about Halloween in the Castro, The San Diego Comic-Con, and the San Jose Giants. And I guess I feel that way about Uesugi Farms. It’s indisputedly great, which is why so many people were there, but it’s just too big and busy for what I want a pumpkin patch to be.