Whatever happened to a couple of triangle eyes and a half moon grin with one snaggly tooth? Porches from sea to shining sea were festooned with piles of orange gourds with amateurish carvings and people were happy. With the exception of a little blood dripping from where Dad accidentally nicked his knuckles, and little Suzy running away as her younger brother attempted to throw a handful of seeds and other slimy bits at her, all was peace and joy.
The worst part of these Halloween pumpkins (wait, no, Jack-o’-lanterns; once there’s a face they are no longer pumpkins) was when the lid was cut poorly, with straight down slashes rather than at a slant. That’s when the stem would plummet through the hole and into the hollowed out gourd, and the neighbors would laugh.
Mom would try to prop it up with toothpicks, but it was still the most embarrassing Jack-o’-lantern on the block.
As things have become more complicated in this life (such as jeans that don’t stay up because foolish boys try to belt them below their hips and giant SUVs that don’t fit in small parking spots at the Dollar Tree), so has the Halloween fun of carving up a pumpkin. Instead of a simple little activity for the family, it has become expensive and competitive, not to mention beyond the average person’s capability.
All we used to use were a butcher knife and a large spoon. That’s why the eyes all had three sides. There was no fine work or close attention to detail, and certainly nothing round. Just slash and scoop.
This new world order is the result of the competitive nature of the average American citizen. And it doesn’t hurt that the Great American Marketing Machine has figured out how to turn it into a tidy profit. Victims of the marketing and distribution of silly things fall prey, and they find items in stores that they don’t need, but buy in bulk anyway.
There are carbon steel blades in a variety of sizes and levels of hazard, allowing the most intricate of designs while doubling or trebling the risk to life and limb (but mostly limb, there have been very few documented pumpkin carving fatalities). Patterns to trace are included in the overpriced packages (which mysteriously increase in price during the week before Halloween, only to be “drastically reduced” on November 1), to ensure that nothing is creative or unique. Everyone’s porch looks exactly the same and children arrive home from trick or treating, only to find that they are standing on someone else’s porch.
Hopefully not the neighborhood weird guy’s, or you just might never see Suzy or her little brother again.
Newfangled scraper tools are used to not actually punch holes in the gourd, but to scrap away the skin and some of the flesh to make thinned out areas that will radiate with a little of the light from within. Shadows and light, people, shadows and light. This is an art project that would earn an A+ if it didn’t have that store-bought look.
Speaking of light from within, we have moved away from the traditional candle and matchstick system. Whereas the carving has become a more dangerous procedure in the modern era, worried mothers have championed the new, and supposedly safer, ways to flicker the Jack-o’-lantern’s grin. Battery operated lights, LEDs, even strobes and flashing colors are all the rage.
No more singed eyebrows or blackened fingertips. Yet I still find nothing wrong with a candle that burns the inside of the hollowed out gourd. Makes the whole front porch smell like a pumpkin pie—a pumpkin pie your grandmother burned in the oven because she was watching her soap operas and never heard the timer go off.
The one thing that has stayed the same during all these years, from my parents’ youth through mine and down through my kids’, is the pumpkin seed project. Industrious moms and dads have the kids wash the seeds from the rest of the stringy guts and then roast them in the oven (the seeds, not the kids). If salted just right they make a tasty snack (again: seeds not kids) for the youngsters to take to school for many weeks to come.
Except it all gets thrown out when the parents aren’t looking. There has never been a kid in history to willingly eat homemade roasted pumpkin seeds. So, really, parents, knock it off.
Trick or treat indeed.