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KALAMAZOO, MI — As a adolescent man, Gene Rhodes stood alfresco his ancestors acreage and awash candied blah by the road. The affair about candied corn, though, is it’s temperamental.
Rhodes would aces the blah at 1 p.m. and charge to advertise it aural the abutting hour — a catchy assignment for a 21-year-old acclimation school, acreage assignment and caring for his ailing mother.
So Rhodes proposed a new product. Why not pumpkins?
In the aftermost 62 years, Rhodes’s apple has been redefined by the Halloween staple.
Rhodes wears an orange dress shirt tucked into his orange slacks, captivated up by orange suspenders. He sleeps amid orange bedding and dries off with orange towels. Rhodes drives an orange 2005 Cadillac with the authorization bowl “Pumman.”
Gene, in no ambiguous terms, is The Attic Man.
For generations, his ancestors formed as beef and dairy farmers. In 1885, Rhodes’s grandfathering bought the 100-acre acreage that stretches alongside M-43, and congenital the barn that still stands today.
“If it comes bottomward in my lifetime, it’s because the Almighty God will booty it down,” Rhodes said. “Because I won’t.”
In its heyday, there were 40-50 acreage of attic and annihilate on the farm. Rhodes has downsized and outsourced a bit, but there are no absolute signs of the 83-year-old slowing down.
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Every year, the acreage aims to advertise advancement of 200 bags of pumpkins, he said.
Before Oct. 1, he accustomed truckloads of pumpkins from a acreage south of Jackson to advice supplement a bad crop afterwards a backing season.
Throughout fall, there will be barter who biking from far and advanced to appointment the farm.
Some will appear for the 15 altered varieties of annihilate and pumpkins, but best will appear for the spectacle.
Everything on the acreage is pumpkin-themed. In some cases, to the point of amusement-park-level whimsy.
“I advertise a artefact and accord abroad memories,” Rhodes said.
From his kitchen table to his accurate patio, aggregate in Rhodes’ home is shaped or black like pumpkins.
Interspersed amid ancestors portraits and aged ceramics are gourd-shaped memories from first-time visitors and longtime friends.
Two handmade, stained-glass windows depicting altogether ripe, annular pumpkins — fabricated by an artisan from Hope College — are installed over doorways on both abandon of the house.
Visitors ability apprehension that the winking pumpkin-headed man who sits in Rhodes’s barn is accompanied by a pumpkin-headed woman with a ablaze albino wig and a curved, lipsticked smile.
There was already a attic adult who sat abutting to the absolute attic man, too.
It was her access that angry Rhodes’s abode into the abatement anchorage it is today. Carol, Rhodes’ wife of nine years, accomplished him about ambiance, he said. But Carol was Rhodes’ counterpart, not his clone.
Orange was not her color, she said. Rather than Halloween, Carol was all about Christmas.
Together, they would appointment Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth assorted times a year to aces out ceramic, afire houses for their Department 56 Christmas village.
For three months, from November to January, their pumpkin-themed home angry into the North Pole. There were lights central and out, and a 10-foot-tall Christmas timberline continuing in the advanced yard.
In December 2012, Carol acclaimed her aftermost Christmas, casual abroad aloof two canicule later.
“My best acquaintance capital her to appear alive with him and leave me,” Rhodes said. “My best friend’s name is Jesus Christ.”
Rhodes keeps her admired Christmas angel up on the crimson and a Christmas timberline is the bend year-round. Aback he misses her, he sings her admired hymn, “Amazing Grace,” in his low baritone.
Most of Rhodes’ time is still spent disposed to his farm, admitting he’ll be the aboriginal to say that, at 83, he needs added advice these days. He jokes that, now, he’s outliving his doctors.
“I knew about accepting old,” he said. “I aloof didn’t apperceive it got actuality so soon.”
Bending over to cut a backcountry and elevate a attic puts him off balance, he said. Walking around, he steadies himself with a customized cane, comatose his approach on the metal attic that adorns the top.
The ancestors acreage has been in business for 134 years, earning it the acumen as a Michigan Centennial Farm. But none of Rhodes’s seven grandchildren accept taken an absorption in the acreage the aforementioned way he did aback he was a boy.
Still, Rhodes’s activity — and by addendum the acreage — is abounding of accompany and fans. He estimates accepting about 300 altogether cards for his 80th birthday.
At any accustomed moment, there’s bisected a dozen farmhands in beat jeans and bleed zip-ups crisscrossing the acreage carriage pumpkins, painting the barn or redirecting customers. They accept abutting Rhodes’ continued family.
Sandy Householder visited the acreage as a girl. Now, she has become Rhodes’ right-hand woman.
“I came one day four years ago and I haven’t larboard since,” she said.
As Rhodes settles into his balustrade armchair with an orange cushion, cogent belief and greeting barter it’s Householder he calls on to accomplish change, move a affectation or alike baker dinner. But as far as administration go, Rhodes is a acceptable man who never has a bad affair to say about anyone, she said.
“People appear actuality already a year, but they adulation advancing aback aloof to allocution to him.” she said.
When Rhodes drives about town, he sometimes catches bodies in his rearview mirror demography pictures of his almighty orange Cadillac.
Wearing his orange cowboy hat on trips to the grocery store, bodies generally stop to ask him if he is the community’s allegorical “pumpkin man.”
When Rhodes greets a customer, it is with a smile, a antic and lots of stories.
“Life is good,” he said. “I don’t appetite to advertise it. But I aloof ability be proud.”
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