“Frost on the Punkin”

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by Donnie Hayden

© 2014, all rights reserved

  Punkin2I grew up in the Midwest. We lived in town and had grandparents that lived in the country. City living gave us culture and the advantages which benefit, from higher education. We had the rural roots and common sense, fresh air and produce from the farm. We had the best of both worlds. I especially loved the fall, autumn, falling leaves and colors, crisp apple cider and crisp air, ripening, harvest, plenty and well, just that whole cornucopia idea of, abundance. A familiar phrase to me as a child growing up, just set the whole season into mind and motion. Just a few words gave me the visual promotion or concept of autumn – “when the frost is on the punkin.” Yes, I do know how to spell pumpkin, but “punkin,” is how the word was first pronounced to me. I am not sure where I first heard this. Perhaps it was our mother, from her mother or father, our grandparents? Both of our Mom’s parents were from large farming families so, you might expect the word “punkin” to be proper pronunciation for the farm, country, and the south. Pumpkin would be correct, for the formally educated, the city dwellers, the landlubbers or as a friend refers to me since I am a new transplant to the “country,” a “flatlander.” Well, I think it is pretty obvious as to what “frost on the punkin” means. Pumpkins turn their bright orange color in the fall and while still not winter, the nights and days can be quite cool. Elementary science taught us that something freezes at 32°F. Frost can occur on the ground, on leaves, and yes, even pumpkins at higher temperatures from 32-say-36 or 37°F. So, “frost on the punkin,” means, it’t chilly outside. It’s time for my favorite olympic sport of, raking leaves and jumping into the piles. Not to mention pumpkin eats and drinks, OMG it’s AUTUMN!!!   🙂 I’ve used this phrase for most of my life. Recently, I used it and some people had never heard of it. So, I thought, maybe it is a Midwest or a southern expression; not known to us northerners? Yes, I included myself as a northerner, since I live here in New York, even though I was born and raised in the Midwest. Well, again with the well, well, how deep is this well? Where did this expression come from? I consulted with the oldest trivia, where-did-that-come-from expression expert, our local home-spun-poetry committed to memory aficionado and my fellow poetry-lover kindred spirit, Aunt Anne Magar (Bab’s) [pronounced: Bob’s]. She’s 91 and sharp as a tack. So I put it to her, “Aunt Bab’s,” I said, “have you ever heard the expression, “frost on the punkin?” “Oh, sure,” she said grinning confidently, “It is from a poem. You should look it up!” So I did. It was written by James Whitcomb Riley. 1853–1916

“There is an interesting incident about how Riley’s job was once saved because he had written “When the Frost Is On the Punkin, and the Fodder’s In the Shock.”  It is in a book written by Riley’s friend John A. Howland entitled, “James Whitcomb Riley: Prose and Pictures.””

“Riley, as a young Greenfield man, had had a hard time finding a niche in the world since he did not care to follow his father in the practice of law.  He sold Bibles, painted signs, entertained in a medicine show, always coming to a dead end.  His mother died in 1870 and he felt he could not bear to stay in Greenfield so he went here and there seeking newspaper employment.  He ran into E.B. Martindale of “The Indianapolis Journal” whom he later called, “my first literary patron,” who added him to the staff of the paper to write poetry.  Some of these poems appeared on the first page of the Journal under the nom de plume “Benjamin F. Johnson of Boone,” supposedly an old farmer.  As they were well received, Riley emerged from under his disguise, writing poems such as “When the Frost is on the Punkin.””

 “In a short while after Riley joined the paper, a gentleman named Halford was appointed manager of the Journal.  One of his first ideas was to cut down on expenses of the paper, and he was considering Riley as his first victim to get the ax.  It so happened that a political convention was held in Indianapolis at this very time.  One of the candidates nominated for office was a big burly fellow who had never made a speech in his life.”

“When he got up to accept his nomination, his mind went blank and he could not utter a word.  The pounding and cheering went on until in desperation he blurted out, “The ticket you have nominated here is going to win “when the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.”  This Riley poem had just been published a few days before. in the newspaper.”

“The applause that greeted these words showed that most of these prominent men had read Riley’s work and approved of it.  Halford kept him on, and he became an established poet.” 

“Riley saved his job by a landscape!”

excerpts from: http://www.jameswhitcombriley.com/frost_on_punkin_saved_job.htm

  I share the lines with you below and a wonderful oral reading by a man from a You Tube video. I believe you will understand every word below, when you hear him recite it; understand why his father wanted him to share it with strangers each year and you, will understand, “frost on the punkin,” as I now do! Thank You Aunt Bab’s!   🙂   Donnie          

Punkin1

“When the Frost is on the Punkin”

James Whitcomb Riley. 1853–1916

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.
 
They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.
 
The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries—kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover over-head!—
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!
 
Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’ ’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too! …
I don’t know how to tell it—but ef sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me—
I’d want to ’commodate ’em—all the whole-indurin’ flock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock! 

If you like to read another poem I wrote for spring, see: “When the SugarN’s in the Maples”

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Categories: Autumn, Fall, Inspiration, Poetry, Seasons, The Gathering Place, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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