Thanksgiving is approaching and I am a little disappointed that I didn’t have success growing a giant pumpkin to use as the centerpiece this year.

A few years ago, shortly after our sweet Mini, the pit bull from the Animal Care League, had taken over our family I got involved in a giant pumpkin-growing competition.

Honestly, to say I got involved, is a misdirection. I was the instigator, challenged my dad to see who could grow the biggest pumpkin, thought it would be a nice way to build our relationship.

At the start I procrastinated. By the time I was shopping for giant pumpkin seeds, the stores were dry. It must have been a giant pumpkin year because the shelves were empty, sold out everywhere. If I was growing corn, pansies or alyssum, no problem, but giant pumpkins were scarce. Walmart, Schauer’s, Whole Foods, Green Earth, all empty. I lucked out at Home Depot where a pack of seeds was misfiled behind some radishes. End of May is not an ideal time to sow a giant pumpkin and expect it to be competition ready for the fall. There is no rushing a pumpkin.

Having a puppy with unbridled energy and keen desire to hunt every bird, squirrel and leaf in the yard meant that my garden beds were just soft places to land when she hurdled over the decorative fences. The shade hosta garden became her runway, the tomato trellises her punching bag and milkweeds were slalom practice flags.

So I took the seeds, soaked them, roughed them up, and planted with prayers in a few spots in the yard with space and light. It was in June when my dad boasted the first photo of long strong vines, beautiful pumpkin leaves and curling tendrils with blossoms following.

I had three places in the yard where I planted seeds and babies were emerging, but it wasn’t long before two of the plants were compressed by Mini. All I needed was one, and that one was hidden close to the house. It had a vine, very smart vine, that independently started climbing up the pole to the bird feeder, roping its way up to the only safe place in the yard. On that climbing vine was a blossom, which must have been female because the cutest bulb started to bulge behind it. Every day the plump little green gourd got a little bigger. It was off the ground, away from Mini, suspended midway up the pole.

My dad’s photos of his progress were steady, then one day he sent a photo of a large, bright orange, perfectly round pumpkin in his vines. It was easily four times the size of my little girl. It wasn’t the pale, milky color that usually is the signature of a giant; it was more pantone 144, that harvest spice color, which was doubly impressive.

I knew I lost the competition, it was just time to let nature take its course and be thankful for the clever gourd that was developing and growing every day. I was not going to win, winning isn’t everything, and I kinda fell in love with my little giant pumpkin. My mom even started to get into the pumpkin discussions and would giggle whenever she talked about it.

My parents seemed to delight that their pumpkin was so big and orange, and I commended them. But I delighted in having a pumpkin growing off the ground.

When I asked if they wanted to put their giant pumpkin on the center of the Thanksgiving table, they became very quiet.

They weren’t trying to avoid hurting my feelings; the truth police came knocking at their door. There was no behemoth growing in their yard. Apparently their gourd had been eaten by squirrels, the fat hungry squirrels that my dad has single-handedly fed for many of their generations. He has a squirrel biome in his yard, and these squirrels are hungry, and get whatever they want. They could not resist the exotic young pumpkin and opened it right off the vine. Mischievously he and my mom substituted a fake pumpkin in the photos to give the illusion that they were growing a great gourd.

The joke was on me.

It was the morning of Thanksgiving when I cut the vine and placed the award-winning “giant” 17-pound pumpkin right in the center of the table. It was grand, a showstopper, and gave me a story of hope, perseverance and gratitude to share every year.