Our neighbor is selling pumpkins and winter squash in his front yard, rows of big pumpkins all lined up neatly in rows and the little squash taking a back seat to the king of the autumn garden.
One of our family’s best and fondest traditions was picking out the Halloween pumpkins. We took even more care doing that than choosing the Christmas tree. The difference being that pumpkin day was crisp and sunny, when tree day was often frigid and overcast.
But if truth be told, the family member who loved pumpkins the best, and still does, is John. Last Saturday, we were driving on a street in the East End when we passed a nice little house with a front yard and porch filled to bursting with Halloween decorations. “Wow!” said John, “it’s getting close!”
You have to be careful with pumpkins, though, if you have a yard full of squirrels. If you put the pumpkins on the front steps too early, waiting for the exact right time to carve them into jack o’lanterns, it might be too much of a temptation for the squirrels, who like pumpkin flesh as well as I like pumpkin pie. There were many years we’d bring them in the kitchen to carve them and were forced to make a nose or an ear in a strange spot on the pumpkin because of squirrel bites. Either that or it would look like the jack o’lantern had acne.
I always thought there should be some sort of holiday that used zucchinis — the huge ones that seem to appear in the garden overnight and are as big as three-month-old babies. But since there isn’t, I’ll settle for lots of zucchini bread.
Pretty soon, John won’t be able to stand it any longer, and we’ll go pumpkin hunting. Often this is a several-stop trip, since we must have exactly the right ones. There has to be a big, perfectly round one for the fat smiling face, and a very tall, narrow one for the Edvard Munch one, ala “The Scream.” Then there really should be another one, just because three makes a nicer gathering than two.
Some years, everyone would carve a pumpkin. Cassidy tended toward the arty pumpkin decorated with leaves. Morgan would incorporate some new twist on the jack o’lantern. Jake tended toward the John tradition. I didn’t do one because by that time I was up to my elbows in pumpkin guts and picking out pumpkin seeds for roasting (which I only did a couple times before I was allowed to quit).
Soon it will be time, and John will go through all the old photo albums looking for photos of jack o’lanterns past. He’ll search for just the right knife. I’ll lay out the newspapers on the kitchen table, and the work will begin.
And even though I make fun of his pumpkin search and groan as he dithers over this cut or that cut, I love the finished product with the candle inside throwing its Halloween glow out into the autumn night.