Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

October 12, 2012

Carving out a family tradition

They are bright, orange and everywhere this time of year, signaling the arrival of fall and the general start of the holiday season.

I am talking, of course, about pumpkins, which seem to abound in all shapes and sizes in front of every store that sells anything resembling produce, Halloween or  fall decorations. There are the big ones, small ones, and the ones with bumpy, wart-looking spots all over them.

I seem to remember believing all pumpkins were orange when I was little, but now I know better. In addition to the white and greenish gourds stores are selling, occasionally browsing a seed catalog and my Pinterest cue have let me know pumpkins come in every shade from blue to red and back again — with and without spray paint.

When I was young, it was about this time every year when we would go traipsing around town to find the pumpkins used for our annual jack-o’-lanterns. There was a sense of urgency from us kids to get our pumpkins before all the best ones were gone and a sense of urgency from our parents to just get pumpkin hunting over with so we would stop bugging them.

There was the usual contest between my brother and me about who had the better pumpkin. We would compete with who had picked the roundest, tallest and over all best pumpkin out of whatever store, pumpkin patch or farmer’s market we had gone to that year. When she was a baby, my sister got one of this tiny pumpkins to play with but as she got older she joined us in the contest to see who could pick the pumpkin with the most pomposity.

Naturally, we would want to carve our pumpkins as soon as we got home only to be reminded that carving them too early would result in a decayed jack-o’-lantern well before Halloween. Thinking back on it, a rotting pumpkin might have been more gruesome than the ones we imagined as kids.

The thing about carving pumpkins is the pumpkin we always set out to carve was never the one we ended up with. Though our imaginations ran wild, professional pumpkin carvers we were not. Basically, most of our pumpkins ended up in the traditional format: two circles for eyes, a triangle nose and a zig-zag mouth to resemble jaws. Occasionally, my mother would take two bolts and jam them in like ears, creating an instant FrankenPumpkin.

I think the reason why we ended up so lackluster with our carving is because our parents made us scoop out the pumpkin goop ourselves. Newspapers littering the kitchen floor, Mom and Dad would cut the tops off each pumpkin then hand us a large spoon to have at it. I still have a hard time thinking of anything more gross than the feeling of the slimy, stringy sensation of pumpkin innards crawling up my arm.

Since I was on the floor scooping goop with my brother, someone would always end up with stringy pumpkin bits in their hair, on their face, or on their clothes. Usually, my parents would stop any all-out pumpkin goop fights, but a little bit was always thrown at someone.

As Mom looked over to make sure we had gotten our pumpkins nice and clean inside, Dad would be busy collecting the seeds so he could cook them and then try to convince us to eat them. I think seeing all of the nasty orange stuff pumpkin seeds were housed in made them less than appetizing.

For a while, we would just draw on our pumpkin face designs in permanent marker, leaving our parents to do all of the cutting. As we got older, Mom picked up these pumpkin carving kits for kids that weren’t very sharp or very sturdy and, as a result, not very good. Only when we were teenagers were we really allowed to get a hold of the big kitchen knives. Then, we would put some candles or battery-operated lights into our pumpkins, turn off the kitchen lights and see if they lived up to our spooky expectations.

There was only one year our pumpkins met an ill fate. It was the first year we had moved into our new home on the southern side of town. We awoke to find our pumpkins had been smashed on the street and the decorative scarecrow the two of us little kids had painted Mom had been stolen from the yard. It was a tough thing for a second-grader to comprehend. After that, all Halloween decorations — pumpkins included — came inside when Mom and Dad turned off the lights for the night.

I always loved the night we carved pumpkins as a kid as it was one of those activities we always got to do as a family. It was an annual tradition and something we always waited for.

Now, I don’t have as much time, nor anywhere to display a jack-o’-lantern. Instead, I have a tiny orange bucket with a pumpkin face and a candle inside I light up for Halloween. However, when I pass the boxes of pumpkins in front of the grocery stores, I can’t help but look at a few and think to myself, “That one would make a good jack-o’-lantern.”

Kate Coil is a reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at kcoil@bdtonline.com.

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