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Gourd Girl

by Gabe Durham

or my first three Halloweens I was a pumpkin. When the following year I got to choose, I asked to be a butternut squash. “It doesn’t have to be a gourd,” my father said. “You could be a tiger or the girl from that cartoon.” But I’d chosen. The next year I was a summer squash. The next a zucchini. The next a cucumber. Then a watermelon. Then a honeydew. My parents worried for my social life as I got older and stuck with gourds, but the other kids liked my costumes. I excelled at packaging my eccentricities for their approval.

A collage of my first decade of Halloweens, entitled “Gourd Girl,” went viral. The Department of Health took notice and asked me to be the face of their Veggies for Life campaign. I considered refusing on the grounds I was strictly a gourd girl, but in truth I’d been considering an expansion for a long time anyway. On the one long day we shot all the PSAs, I dressed as a broccoli, carrot, onion, leek, artichoke, red bell pepper, potato, and the classic pumpkin that started it all.

Our only creative difference was when the director asked me to say, “Eat vegetables!” and I insisted we change the line to, “Become vegetables!” We compromised, and the line became simply, “Vegetables!,” leaving viewers free to infer the video’s true meaning for themselves.


Author's Note

When writing one of these stories, the hard rule is: I have no idea where it's going. I open with a mundane line — it can't be too juicy! — and let the story escalate from there. Between each sentence, the text asks, “Now what?” To answer that question, I attempt to surprise myself.

This style of writing requires an unlearning, a going back. In my nonfiction book, Bible Adventures, I wrote that I would “rather read a story by an eight-year-old than a short story by an eighteen-year-old.” If I really believe that, I have to take its implications seriously. Children are more enchanted with the building blocks of story (“What could happen now? What wild creature or object or person might appear?”) than they are with a story’s overall effect.

Children’s writing often presents a negotiable reality that serves the whims of the moment at the expense of coherence. This is what’s so cool about it. A kid’s short story lives not for the whole, but for right now, this moment, again and again. Sure, “kids say the darndest things,” but let's give them their due: Kids are often better than adults at coming up with the darndest things.

Gabe Durham is the author of the books Fun Camp, Bible Adventures, and Majora's Mask, and he's the founding editor of Boss Fight Books. He often tells stories on TikTok from his account @drboring. He lives in Los Angeles.

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