It began last year when Mr. Abernathy was reminded of this favorite candy as a youth, Necco Wafers. The vintage round, potato chip-like combination of sugar, corn syrup (also sugar), gelatin (yup, still sugar) and gum (Hey look, its sugar!) that came in flavors like orange, lemon, lime, clove, chocolate, cinnamon, licorice and wintergreen. Realizing the candy still had a life delighted the man. With Mr. Abernathy not getting around as well as he once did, getting out and finding the coveted wafers had been difficult. Thus, his scheme began.
He thought he could fool neighbor kids during the upcoming Trick-or-Treat and trade them for what he says was "something special". His target were the brother/sisters trio of Calli, Abby and Reed Henderson. These three had a reputation and had been a nuisance to him since their birth. Little did he know, his beloved Necco Wafers had been the bane of all Trick-or-Treaters for the last half century.
The eldest of the trio, Calli (10), says she thought the wafers were simply scented sidewalk chalk. "People used to eat those things!? Why would they do that!?", she said amazingly. The middle child, 7-year old Abby, claims her school used them as a deterrent for bad behavior."What are 'clove' and 'wintergreen' anyway? They can't be real. Are those code names or chemicals of some kind?", she said confusingly, yet perturbed. Four-year old Reed could care less, as long as it has more sugar than anything else, he's happy with it - and the concentrated sugar discs hit the spot.
Mr. Abernathy did not understand that the children would have gladly given him their unwanted, sure-fire, holiday retaliation handouts. Knowing he was out of the loop, the kids played along. The man offered what he called "magic pumpkin seeds" as a trade for the wafers. The seeds were actually stale BBQ flavored pepitas left over from a Whole Foods gift basket from the previous year's Christmas.
|Calli, Reed & Abby Henderson proudly showing off their Pumpkin|
Straw near their home in Orient, Ohio.
"How old is this candy?", Abby asked. When told the original recipe was developed in 1847, she quipped, "I think that crazy lady has been holding on to these for the last 168 years. They taste like they're from the original batch."
The youngest, Reed, seemed to be annoyed that in order to get his sugar fix he had to punish himself with a lack of actual taste. We wanted to know if the wafers reminded him of anything and with a mouth full of a colorful, soot-like substance, he replied, "Poop flavored dust!"
Once the trade of Neccos for pepitas (the "magic" pumpkin seeds) took place, Mr. Abernathy was overwhelmed with joy - feeling as if he had his revenge for the most recent havoc the trio had caused. Their game, called "Pine Cone", had left his juvenile coniferous trees devoid of their beloved woody offspring he uses to decorate with each fall.
Apparently, "Pine Cone" is played by simply plucking the items off of the trees and repeatedly pelting one another with them until you find something more constructive to do. Defending their most original game, Calli says they - too - were not unscathed. "Those pine cones can be pretty sharp, I got a real bad, deep splinter the last time we played," she said forcing back an obvious smile as only a child can do.
Almost sure that what they received was nothing, the children did - for laughs - plant the seeds. They were more than relieved to be rid of what Reed referred to as the "devil candy". And just like that, the trio grew the world's first Pumpkin Straw. They have become rich and famous for their unique, homegrown product. Their hometown of Orient, Ohio has - of course - become the hub of the Pumpkin Straw market overnight.
According to Abby, "We thought it was just a fluke, but the grass just kept growing. Folks purchasing the grass we've baled say it's like aroma therapy for their animals - it calms and pleases them." When asked her thoughts on the man who traded them the seeds and was, essentially, the reason for their success, Abby seemed to not understand the question, "Mr. Abernathy? Isn't that the neighbor's cat?" The three siblings then fell to the ground in hysterics.
In a world of pumpkin spice everything, these three children have added a new chapter to the gourd that turns fall into a nightmare. Who wouldn't want to taste, ingest or smell like a jack-o-lantern?
Beguiled by Necco Wafers and subsequently burned by his desire for them, Mr. Abernathy isn't too fond of his neighbors' new found business empire. When pointing out to him that this story was eerily similar to the "Jack and the Beanstalk" fairy tale we all know so well, he didn't budge. He just pointed to a recently opened box near his front door. The top flap said "Thank You! From The Hendersons" and inside was a pile of crunched up pine cones with what looked to be a pumpkin scented car air freshener sitting on top.
In the distance, several juvenile pine trees loaded with green foliage were swaying in the Autumn wind - but visibly missing their brown strobile brethren.