It was Friday. Joe and I were off of work for the college’s fall break. The kids were skipping school. Our black SUV was loaded down with piles of sweatshirts, packages of string cheese, and our point-and-shoot camera. It was a sunny but cool day, perfect fall weather. We started the car, flipped on our heated seats and began our trip. The drive was pretty. On both sides of the highway, every other tree was splashed with bright yellow or tinges of orange. In another month, the trees would be bare—hawk-spying season. But for now, we enjoyed the quiet, colorful ride on this perfectly-straight stretch of highway, heading east.
At a little before noon, we arrived in a tiny town that had what looked to be a double-wide for a post office. The boys were excited; they stretched their necks and sat up straighter in their seats as we got closer to our destination: a pumpkin farm. After a busy first-half of the fall semester, I was ecstatic that we were finally going to spend some family-time together—pumpkins, hayrides, corn mazes–all four of us. I was expecting great things for this day.
We had never been to this farm before, and we initially balked at the idea of paying to go to a farm where we were going to pay to buy pumpkins, fudge and who-knows-what-else. Where we’re from, there are lots of small, working farms that open their doors during the autumn months to families to pick apples, pluck pumpkins from a patch, or sip on hot cider or chocolate. A person pays for the produce or anything purchased in the store, but that’s all. Good grief, we thought, $40 for a family of four just to walk around and breathe in the fresh, fall air? Ultimately, though, we decided it would be worth the expense. It would be a once-in-a-year type thing, and the boys would have fun.
We almost drove right past the farm. The entrance was not well-marked, and I had expected more activity. Had it not been for the hastily-hung signs that read, “Closed,” we might have missed it.
My mouth dropped open. I squinted my eyes. “How could they be closed?” I was ready to whip out my Blackberry and look up the hours again on the farm’s website. “I thought they said they were open on Friday, 9 to 2?”
We ignored the signs, wishfully thinking there had been some mistake, and pulled into the gravel, muddied parking lot. Except for a handful of other cars, ours was the only one. Still, we refused to accept that our family-day had been foiled, and our hour-long drive had been for naught.
We got out of the car and walked up to the ticket booth. It was dark and empty. Beyond the ticket booth was a large cattle gate; it was closed and blocking the path into the farm.
Without words, we stood at the gate. In the distance, we could see a goat pen and a chicken coop. We could also see a kid-sized wooden fort and a Paul-Bunyan-sized slide. A rope maze stood directly in front of us, and so did a cute, country-looking store where presumably the much-promoted homemade fudge could be purchased.
We lingered at the gate because there was so much to look at, and because we also didn’t know what to do, or how else we would spend this special afternoon together as a family. Then, we saw a tall, husky man dressed in carpenter jeans, working boots and a beige canvas jacket walking towards us. When he reached the gate, the man explained that it had rained too much the night before. The corn maze and pumpkin patch were flooded; the ground was too muddy to run the wagon-rides. He’d been forced to close the farm for the day.
He must’ve seen the desperation disappointment in my face, because then he said, “But, you’re welcome to come in and take a look ’round, see what we have.” Then, he opened the gate. “C’mon in.”
Without hesitation, the boys ran in. Joe and I followed slowly, still unsure if we should be walking around the farm if it was closed. But the man, presumably the owner, walked away, leaving us to ourselves. He didn’t seem too worried that strangers were walking around his property, so we relaxed a bit.
We walked around and said “hello” to sheep, goats, chickens, donkeys and llamas. The boys played pumpkin tetherball and bounced around in a muddy corral on blow-up horses. They climbed on a tractor-tire obstacle course and pretended to be cowboys on swings made out of saddles and shaped like horses. As a family we did a duck race (I won) and then made our way through the rope maze (Joe won).
We were just getting ready to head home when a younger man who was holding a Styrofoam plate and finishing his lunch walked over to us.
“You know we have a fence maze, too,” he said pointing behind us to his left. “And we’re done working on the fort, if the kids want to play on that.” He added, “And have you seen the pedal cars yet?”
There’s more? Suddenly, the $10 per person entrance fee seemed like a bargain—and we had paid nothing. The u-pick apple orchards and pumpkin farms that we’d been hoping to find in Missouri, like the ones we were used to back East, now seemed quaint and boring in comparison to this pumpkin-themed amusement park.
“No, we didn’t know about the pedal cars,” I managed to say.
“C’mon, I’ll show you.”
Joe, the boys and I spent the next hour enjoying a private tour of a part of the farm that we hadn’t even known existed, courtesy of Jeremy. The kids explored more activities. We even helped Jeremy feed stinky-but-adorable piglets who, when it wasn’t wet and muddy out, would race each other around a dirt track (don’t tell PETA). But the highlight of the afternoon was definitely the pedal go-carts. I’d never seen anything like them before. They sat high off the ground, with long, spindly legs, four wheels, a steering wheel and a brake-arm.
Henry and I got on a double cart; Christian and Joe got singles. The boys were in heaven: they were real race-car drivers riding on a real race track. We laughed and pedaled and chased each other and cut each other off. We raced around that track until our legs ached and our lungs hurt.
When we were done, Jeremy told us that the pedal cars were one of the farm’s biggest attractions, and that on a normal day, kids have to wait in line for an hour just to get a chance to ride them. And then, he said, it’s only two laps around the track and they’re done. Jeremy wasn’t trying to make us feel bad; he was just stating the important facts, like any good tour guide would.
But it was humbling. The realization that we had been given an incredible gift was beginning to sink in. We may not have been able to do the corn maze or see the piggies race, but we had been able to enjoy the farm all to ourselves! We’d had a personally-guided tour! We hadn’t had to wait in any lines!
It was nearing 2 p.m., the time I knew the farm was supposed to close. We said thank you to Jeremy, who also confirmed that the man we had spoken to earlier was indeed the owner. As I walked toward the exit with Henry, Joe rounded-up Christian, and found the owner to say thank you. (He told Joe that 900 kids from school groups had planned to be at the farm that day. 900 kids!)
Walking back to the car, I was overcome with emotion. What had seemed initially like total failure–farm closed, rained-out, family-day ruined–had turned out to be an unforgettable afternoon. It was a reminder to me of how things can initially seem completely wrong, but later turn out to be exactly right.
That’s when I knew that God had orchestrated this whole day to show us–ME–his love. This frequently fragile believer. This one who so easily doubts. How humbling is God’s grace!
We did not leave the farm with a carload of pumpkins or a camera full of pictures. In fact, I took not even one photo because I had left my camera in the car thinking that when we stepped out, we’d only be out for a minute!
But what we did leave with was so much more lasting and satisfying–an overwhelming sense of God’s love and care for us.