Oct 31, ‘13
I almost didn’t buy a pumpkin this year but at the last minute, decided I couldn’t let Halloween go by without making a jack ‘o’ lantern. So I purchased a small pumpkin yesterday, at the supermarket.
The good ones were all gone.
There were several for sale that had faces painted on them but the price on those was high and I don’t favor painted faces.
I like a traditional jack ‘o’ lantern. I like diamonds for eyes and nose and a ragged smile with a snaggle-tooth or two.
I bought a very small pumpkin for one dollar that had been part of a decorative display near the Floral Department. Best I could do. It was the size of my two fists put together and not entirely fresh. I could feel that it was starting to go soft. Within hours after bringing it home, it started developing soft spots.
Jack ‘o’ Lanterns, to me, are the best part of Halloween and the only Halloween tradition I maintain to this day. It used to be the excitement of the costume and the plan for all the places I’d be going on Halloween night and the big bag for lots of candy and the jack ‘o’ lantern to be carved, just before dark on Halloween night.
When I was very small, I learned how to carve the faces from watching/helping my grandmother and that’s who I’m mostly thinking of when I’ve carved my pumpkin these past few decades. Her method was to make the cuts in straight lines and always give it a snaggle tooth. I’ve never deviated from that plan of action. I enjoy those few minutes of feeling like I’m 5 years old and back in her kitchen watching her scoop the seeds and pile them on a spread-out newspaper and then make a face in a pumpkin, first with a pencil, then carving out the face with a knife. When the face was done, she’d scoop a deep-ish, candle-size hole in the bottom of the pumpkin with a spoon. That was where she’d place the candle. Sometimes the candle slipped right into the spot, sometimes it had to be molded into the hole with the help of tin foil. The candles we used were stubs of candles that had been used for other occasions and then put aside for Halloween. I loved it when my grandmother lit the candle inside the pumpkin, then turned off the lights — all the better to admire the newly carved face, lit up from inside. I loved the moment of elation of gazing at our creation and being with her in the dark with no other light but the deep orange glow and the jack ‘o’ lantern face smiling its mysterious smile.
Today, I use tea-lights, purchased at the Dollar Store.
I like the light cast from a jack ‘o’ lantern and I like the smell of burning pumpkin. Sometimes, I’ll throw in a dried leaf or two for the scent of burning leaves. I like the entire process of carving the pumpkin and remembering those times with my grandmother – and momentarily feeling as if I’m back there, again, in her kitchen, at her table watching her creating magic.
Carving this tiny pumpkin was difficult because of the soft spots. The mouth and eye section caved in and was held together for awhile with a few sewing needles. I went outside to get a leaf to burn and found it was raining and there were no leaves dry enough. But, I totally enjoyed the moment when I lit the tea-light candle inside and then turned off the lights to admire the shining little face.
My 2013 Jack ‘o’ lantern sat on the window sill for an hour, smiling into the dark. Then, the top caved in, the light went out and that was the end of Halloween, for me. The scent of burnt pumpkin is in the air and Halloween is gone. My tiny pumpkin had its moment of glory and tomorrow, will be compost.