Winter Squash

My father was a lawyer in north Mississippi. On a day in October,  he’d usher my sister, brother, and me into the car and drive out west from Bruce to the Ellard community where an old man and his wife lived on a small farm.

Across the road from their house, the slope of a hill was covered with yellowing vines bearing winter squashes. We’d go out there and gather all we could while Daddy sat on the porch with them, probably had some buttermilk and cornbread and a glass of tea and talked.

Once after we left, I asked him why he didn’t pay the man.

“Son, they wouldn’t take my money,” he said. “I tried to keep their out of prison. But I couldn’t, and they knew why. I never asked them for a penny. He said to come get what I want from his patch. You don’t turn down gifts from a man who doesn’t have much to give.”

The squash were acorns and yellow Hubbards; some were peeled, cubed, and parboiled for a casserole or pie. Others were split, seeded, usually scored, brushed with melted butter, sprinkled with brown sugar, and baked in a hot oven until soft and slightly singed.

Once on the table, we’d scoop out the flesh with a spoon, put it on our plates and mash it with a fork with more butter and black pepper.

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