Sunday, October 29, 2023
Life needs a little more celebration than it usually gets. There are too many Mondays and not enough Christmases. Too much steamed broccoli and not enough deep fried Oreos. It’s in that spirit that I decided to do things a little differently lately, that I bought leaves to stick to my windows and balloons to stick to my walls. It’s in that spirit that I picked up a cartful of gourds during a recent grocery shopping trip, and a pumpkin last week.
Granted, it wasn’t exactly pumpkin picking, but there’s only one place I know of around here where you can go walk on a farm and choose your own from a field, and I saw the lines coming out of their parking lot. There was a contingent of police just to direct traffic in and out.
I made do with the supermarket.
Outside the front door there was a big wooden palette full of bright orange pumpkins. Round ones and skinny ones and lopsided ones. I made it a point to do it justice by moving them all around so I could examine the ones on the very bottom and compare the ones on the left to the ones on the right.
I considered the stem height and whether or not there was a flat side. I rejected the ones with too many pox. After rearranging every pumpkin on the palette and saving a few from rolling off into the parking lot, I chose the best one. Beautifully round, only a few pox for character, and the perfect stem for lifting the lid to put a candle inside.
Oh yes, I was planning to carve it.
It’s been a long time since I carved a pumpkin. I think the last time was when I was teaching and brought one to class to carve with the kids.
When it comes to pumpkin carving, there are two kinds of kids. The kind who stick both hands into the pumpkin up to their shoulders and grab fistfuls of stringy orange pulp, watching with glee as it slithers down their arms. And the kind who will, with much coaxing and cajoling, merely poke a finger in to pluck a seed with a look of horrified disgust, then rush to the sink to wash their hands.
I knew both.
Today I decided to be the former.
First I sketched out a few faces on paper. Then I penned my favorite one onto the pumpkin. I decided I wanted a happy pumpkin. No spooky creepy scary ones this time, just one that would make me want to grin back.
Then I grabbed my paring knife and got to work making the opening in the top.
Thing I remembered: carving curves is hard.
But after about a billion tiny little stabs in something resembling a circle, the top popped off. Glorious, stringy pulp!
I rolled up my figurative sleeves and stuck my hand in all the way up to the elbow. Cool, slippery seeds squished between my fingers. I felt like I was five years old.
With much clawing and scraping I emptied out that pumpkin until it was the smoothest, slickest pumpkin inside you’ve ever seen.
By that point I’d exerted so much energy that I needed a pumpkin pie spice malted milk ball for sustenance. I ate it in one bite.
Revived, I started work on the next billion tiny little stabs to make the eyes, the nose, the mouth.
Other thing I remembered: carving teeth without knocking them out is harder. One was rather loose but I poked it gently back in place. Another fell out entirely so I stuck a pin in it to hold it in place. Then I stood back to admire my brilliance.
There was only one problem. I hadn’t exactly followed the pen marks so the pumpkin was rather marred by ink. Rubbing it didn’t work. Scrubbing it didn’t work.
And then I remembered an old trick: hairspray. With a couple of squirts and a swipe of a paper towel, the pen was gone. Great success!
Clearly the universe, for all its evil tricks, was saving its good graces for today.
Then it was time for the denouement, the magical moment when a pumpkin becomes a jack-o-lantern. I have a box full of tea lights perfect for the occasion, but clearly by this point the universe had lost patience with me because I couldn’t find them anywhere. I know I had them recently. I know I saw them. I came across them when I dismantled the office closet and put them… somewhere. Perhaps in the alternate dimension with the lost socks, because they were nowhere to be found.
So I got a regular jar candle instead. A mango scented one, which isn’t a terrible thing when you think about it. It worked splendidly.
My pumpkin-now-jack-o-lantern smiled madly. I proudly showed my work to Ralph like a good five year old would and he smiled, too.
For a minute there was a lot of smiling.
It’s been a minute since I carved a pumpkin, but today I rediscovered the pleasure of being marginally less scrooge-y about Halloween. I’m still not donating candy to ungrateful little wretches, but I’m going to let that pumpkin glow until the fruit flies become too unruly and science experiments begin to grow inside it. Then we’ll say goodbye until next year. Maybe I’ll even plant one of the seeds next to the pinecone, next to Alice. I don’t have a garden but maybe I’ll get a little sprout, you never know.
And to celebrate all this, I’m going to have a slice of apple pie.
Photo: pumpkin selection. Clearly I chose the best one.