My folks were never big on religion. Ma was raised Catholic, so we went to a church thirty miles away, but that was it. Just Sunday. Not much in the way of religious goings-on during the week. My daddy was cautious about it, had a brother who’d been bit bad by the religion bug. Uncle Mickey. Daddy always referred to him as “the family fanatic,” and it was that fanaticism that eventually killed him.
Uncle Mickey had a big garden at his place in Riverton, and he was real proud of it. He could grow anything from peas to pumpkins. But squash, that was his favorite. He called them “God’s gift to the poor” cause they would grow in abundance, and the picked squash could last all winter without going bad, long as you kept them in a cool place. You couldn’t visit Uncle Mickey without leaving with an armload of squash, all kinds from Butternut to Acorn. But the ones he loved the most—the ones he never gave away—were the Blue Hubbard. He called them “divine.”
One year, back when I was a kid, Mickey harvested a huge Blue Hubbard that he claimed had the face of Jesus on it. He claimed you could see it within all the bumps and grooves and splotches of grey-blue. He had our whole family over one night to “gaze upon it,” cause he figured it was his responsibility to share. He’d put candles all around and encouraged us to pray with him. Dad made a show of it—I think out of respect for his brother—but Ma refused, and she wouldn’t let me. She said it would “expose me to the world’s crazy too early for my young mind.” Still, I looked at that massive squash long and hard. Couldn’t see a face, Jesus’s or anyone’s, even when Mickey pointed it out. It just looked like bumpy blue squash to me. I was only a kid, and Uncle Mickey wasn’t too offended.
He kept that squash under his bed, said he needed it close when he was sleeping and more vulnerable to demons. He’d haul it out—all forty-seven pounds of it—every time he had visitors, which became less and less often due to his inability to discuss anything else. Even Ma and Daddy wouldn’t visit much toward the end. They never brought me back after the first couple of times.
Eventually it was just sales people who’d stop by. They’d want to sell him insurance or a vacuum cleaner, and old Mickey would drag out the Jesus Blue Hubbard, try to get them to pray with him, pointing out the spots and blotches that made up that heavenly face. I suppose a few of them mighta got down on their knees. When someone’s that passionate about something, it’s a difficult thing to just walk away. Even a stranger is gonna give the obsession a little time, especially if he thinks there might be a sale in it. Mickey claimed he converted a few, had them praying next to him, got them “Jesusized,” as he called it. I never heard anyone admit to it, though, but I suppose they wouldn’t. Ma said poor Uncle Mickey was more than a few eggs short of a dozen toward the end. He wasn’t making much sense, telling a lot of unbelievable stories. But one thing he was clear about, never wavered on, was his love for that big, ugly squash.
It was sad the way Uncle Mickey went. Apparently, he’d dragged the squash out from under his bed one night, prepping for his nightly prayers, when he had a massive heart attack right there, clutching the thing. That’s how my daddy found him, flat on his back with the Jesus Blue Hubbard pressed across his throat. When I think about it now, I suppose it was both a beautiful and a horrible way for Mickey to go, to be crushed and choked by something he loved so much. Daddy kept that squash for a few months after, I think cause it was such a part of his brother. But Ma finally cooked it up, claiming that Jesus and even Uncle Mickey wouldn’t want it to go to waste.
It was a good tasting squash, holy or not.