elbows on the table

The Case of the Mysterious Missing Pumpkin

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This story is part of the Elbows on the Table Essay Series. Illustration by Tegan Harmonay.

My college roommate and I weren’t super close. But we both transferred to this school in Boston, and were experiencing life away from home for the first time together. 

For the most part, being away from home was pure bliss. But when I was homesick I always found solace in care packages from my family. 

Snacks, socks, multivitamins– it didn’t really matter what my parents sent me. Just getting something from home was all the comfort I needed.

And as I unboxed this parade of care packages throughout the year, my roommate watched with a wistful air of envy, never receiving anything herself

Even her birthday, which coincided with Halloween, came and went, and still, nothing. Her mom usually got her a large pumpkin as a joke. But this year, not even a “Happy Birthday daughter, we didn’t forget you exist” quickly scribbled on the fold of a greeting card. 

It was a long, fun-filled, and busy first year at our new college. But by the end of May, we were all ready for a long summer break. 

But first, we had to pack.

Our dorm was bursting at the seams with art projects, clothes, and quite honestly, a ton of junk that we had collected from all over Boston. We spent days separating and collecting our things to make sure the room would be spotless by the time we packed up and said our goodbyes. 

With our room finally sorted and our minds ready for summer, we were surprised on the morning of our last day when an unexpected guest came knocking on the door. It was a student neither of us knew, bearing some interesting news. 

They worked in the mailroom (odd – but hi) and while cleaning out the office, they discovered a package wedged beneath one of the shelves. 

How this absolutely massive box was misplaced is a mystery for another story, but it could possibly be explained by the fact that the mailroom was run by 19 and 20-year-olds. But aside from being large, this package looked BEAT. 

I am not exaggerating when I say this package looked like it had been to Mordor, there and back again. Nevertheless, we were very intrigued by this package. We had thought no one sent her anything – but there, beneath a layer of dust and between the creases of wrinkled cardboard, you could just make out her name. 

We laughed when we saw it was postmarked back in OCTOBER of the past year. 

Regardless, she was excited. And so was I to be honest. She had thought her family never sent her a birthday present and I had felt guilty getting sooo much. 

Her fingers jittered with anticipation as she peeled back the cardboard. 


And then the smell hit us and she burst out laughing. 

I looked at her confused until she revealed what was the rankiest, moldiest, most grotesque pumpkin I have ever seen. 

This was a pumpkin straight out of Stranger Things Season 2. 

My roommate cackled with laughter while I stood there, awkwardly, not getting the joke. 

A gift from home, it was the pumpkin her mom gave her every year for her birthday, only 8 months later. 😬

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