When I was a kid carving pumpkins was almost a right of passage. Picture the kitchen with me! It has a yellow Formica covered table with chrome legs and matching plastic seats on the metal framed chairs . Linoleum on the floor, a hulking refrigerator that was mostly insulation, coils and motor, and small gas stove all this accessorized by painted cabinets and linoleum counter tops with metal edges. No TV and No dishwasher and always a window over the kitchen sink. A door leading outside to an enclosed back porch and probably another door into the single garage.
Pumpkin carving was a part of Halloween and 50 years ago Halloween belonged to the kids. A pumpkin was selected. usually at the grocery store, I always looked for one with a good slightly flat side to make carving easier, we bought at the grocery store because we didn’t have pumpkin patches, corn mazes and businesses that survived by exploiting Halloween.
Pumpkins were carved on the back porch, in the garage or in my case on that yellow Formica kitchen table covered with lots of layers of newspapers. The tools consisted of a large spoon and a “Sharp “knife. There were no cute purchased patterns to follow you drew your own pattern or you just started carving and you had two choices! You either made a fierce pumpkin or a friendly pumpkin. They were not pieces of art nor were they painted of partially carved to let light through. Fierce pumpkins had pointed teeth and a frown while happy ones had square teeth and a smile, eye shape optional for both but sometimes evil pumpkins had slanting eyebrows carved in.
But for a kid the key thing is you got to use a sharp knife and you learned on your own that if you didn’t angle the top the lid would fall in. You learned that in order to make a pumpkin you had to get your hands dirty and slimy getting all the goo and seeds out of the inside. You learned that sometimes the price of creating something came with some pain when you were a little too aggressive with the knife. Often times the kind of pumpkin you were making changed mid-stream because it’s hard to erase mistakes you make on a pumpkin although sometimes you could stick missing parts back on with toothpicks.
And even better when you were done you got to play with fire. Pumpkins were powered by warm flickering candles not a cold sterile battery powered LED. Candles could burn you when you tried to light them from the top of the pumpkin and I guess many of us learned that heat rises from that.
Candles also warmed the pumpkin and gave it an unusual smell not necessarily bad but certainly unique. No matter good or bad, like burning leaves it was a smell forever associated with fall in my mind.
Fire, Sharp knives, Candy Halloween was kid Heaven in the 50s. Please don’t buy a pattern from the store for your kid’s pumpkin, hand the kid a pencil and a spoon and a knife, advise but don’t control what they do, let them make Halloween their own again. Trust them to do their own work, let them do their own work, let them get dirty and even cut a finger or slightly burn themselves lighting a candle, in the long run it will be good for them.
Incidentally I heard that old lady Sloan three blocks over was going to be giving out popcorn balls again this year so let your kids go, follow at a distance if you must but let them go and grow. Halloween should belong to the kids. ( I’m not talking about letting three year olds or costumed dogs do it on their own because in my opinion both should be on a leash)
Oh and lest I forget let your kids have the experience of picking up a rotting pumpkin two weeks later and having to throw it away, the soft noxious mass probably frozen a couple of times carefully taken to the garbage to avoid leakeage, That is unless some teenage hood has already disposed of it in the center of the street which provides the opportunity for another life lesson.