Around this time, every year, my family would pile into our super-cool maroon Toyota MPV minivan and head to Grammie’s house for the weekend. Besides the prospect of filling our tummies with some yummy Lithuanian food derived from the kind of recipes that include lines like “stir it until it feels right,” and spending time with my grandparents on both sides, the main purpose of the trip was to go to “The Valley.”
The Valley: a wonderful place that promised 50 lb bags of potatoes, bushels of onions, and hand picked pumpkins. I really have no idea which “valley” we ended up in, other than it was somewhere within a 1 hour drive of Athol, Massachusetts. I suppose I could ask my Dad, but I think it would take some of the mystique away from my memories. I can still hear my grandmother: “we’ah goin’ down The Valley.” Everyone just knew it. The Valley.
The drive was usually full of bright orange and flaming red trees. The sugar maples were brilliant if the weather cooperated. Bright red barns, with their rutted and muddy drives, dotted the hilly landscape. It seemed like every farm had a makeshift sign propped up outside listing their crops and prices. It wasn’t good enough to stop at just one farm for everything. We’d visit at least three, and get potatoes and onions at each – enough for the winter, and then some. Like good New Englanders and Lithuanians, we would pile our “root cellars” with enough potatoes to feed a small army.
Then, we would drive around until we found the best pumpkin patch. Without fail, it would be on the muddiest, grimiest, dirtiest farm we passed. My sister and I would spend a small eternity picking out a pile of pumpkins, one for each of us, for decorating. By the time we were done, we’d be red-faced from the autumn breeze and covered in muck. It was a little slice of heaven in The Valley.
We haven’t ‘gone down The Valley’ in a long time. I wonder if the small independent farmers are still there, selling their produce in rickety road-side stands or out of their giant red barns. I wonder if people still pile their cars full of potatoes and onions. I wonder if the pumpkins are still a muddy pick-your-own adventure. The Valley I remember is a magical place. After all these years, I sure hope it’s stayed that way.