Sunday 23 Oct 2016

Carving Pumpkins
AJ Robinson

Just the other day, my wife and I were in an arts and crafts store. She wanted some paint for a project. I tagged along.

As Halloween fast approaches, all manner of seasonal decorations and crafts were everywhere. The cardboard pumpkins caught my eye. I didn’t understand the purpose, but my wife explained. People could place an order for what they wanted on the pumpkin and the staff would carve it up for them.

This was very different from the pumpkins I carved, with my mom, long ago. I don’t remember our first pumpkin, nor do I remember all of them, but I do remember the fun of doing it, and the, for lack of a better word, evolution of the carvings.

Each October we’d go to the market together. I’d search for just the right pumpkin. It had to have a decent “face,” that is, a relatively flat area for carving, a flat enough bottom to stand upright and a large enough inside to hold the candle. My mom would warn me about getting one that was too tall, as it would be hard to light the candle without scorching my fingers. Once home, we’d draw the face on the side, and a circle on the top. Again, she was careful to tell me about getting the top just right, angling the cuts so the top wouldn’t fall inside.

The first few years, of my carving, the face was always simple: triangular eyes and nose and a grinning mouth. Mom did most of the cutting. I didn’t like cleaning out the insides, so slimy, but mom was always good about taking care of that. She’d take the seeds, clean up and then roast them. They made for such a tasty snack.

Come Halloween Night, our pumpkin would grace our porch, the candle inside. We’d leave it out there until it just about caved in on itself. Then, reluctantly, I’d throw it away.

Somehow, saying good-bye to the “old boy” was always sad. It was as if I was letting go of Halloween itself. Of course, I was careful to hoard my candy, eat it slowly; draw it out and make sure it lasted as long as possible.

Then, over the years, as my carving skills improved, my mom let me do most of the slicing. The faces got fancier. I’d do slanted eyes with little round dots, a curvy mouth with a couple of crooked teeth and still that triangle-shaped nose, which I rather liked that. I also found I liked cleaning out the insides; the gooshie pulp felt neat as it wrapped about my hands and slipped between my fingers.

We still roasted the seeds together.

Each year I found it easier to say good-bye to our pumpkin; I guess I was growing up. Yet, I still looked for ways to send the “old boy” off with style. One year I sliced him up into tiny pieces and fed him down the garbage disposal; another year, we gave him a proper burial in the backyard. I was so disappointed that a pumpkin tree didn’t sprout next spring. It fell to my mother to explain how we’d eaten the seeds that sprouted new pumpkins.

I know that these modern pumpkins look much neater and fancier than what we carved, but it seems to me that they’re lacking in something. Sitting around the kitchen table, spewing pumpkin “guts” all over the place and spending time with my mom seems a much better way to carve a pumpkin. It might not look as good, but I think it has something else that makes it superior.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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