By Kelly Hines
“Oh, for the love of Pete! Just give me the knife!” My mother, screaming at my dad; my brother, pumpkin guts smeared in his hair; me, picking shards of pumpkin seeds from between my teeth.
Pumpkin carving always started with great expectations and enthusiasm. My mom would bring home a beast from the grocery store and spread out the Sunday paper on the kitchen table. She’d saw the top off with her biggest Ginsu, and my brother and I would attack the inside with soup spoons.
“Pumpkin guts!”, we’d moan and squish the flesh between our fingers. My mom would patiently pick out the seeds and wash off the newsprint in the big colander in the sink.
“You know, this year, these are going to be fantastic!”, she assured us, and we nodded – not in agreement, but because we knew they would definitely not be fantastic. No matter what oil or seasoning or temperature or method you use, pumpkin seeds suck. Salted, peppered, roasted, toasted, smoked, steamed or sautéed. Every way, every year.
“What shape do you want the eyes?” she asks, and draws them in with a ballpoint pen. It’s nearly always the same – triangle eyes, triangle nose. “Happy or scary mouth?”
“Scary!”, says my brother, the future criminal. And, because he is the baby and always gets his way, she draws a wide, jagged scowl.
“Okay, now let’s carve it!” She says ‘let’s’, but she really means, ‘I’ll do this because you will ruin it’. Then my father, in an uncharacteristic show of holiday enthusiasm, jumps up from his recliner and says “I’ll carve it!” My mom, shocked, hands the Ginsu to Daddy.
He circles the table like an animal, sizing up the pumpkin and trying to plan the best angle of attack. His cigarette dangles from the corner of his mouth, it’s ash defying gravity, the smoke curling into one, squinted eye. He passes the knife from hand to hand. Yep yep yep yep yep, he says softly.
“Oh, good lord. I think he’s having a flashback. Honey, are you here or in the jungle?” My mom puts a protective arm around my brother. I shield myself with the sheet pan of pumpkin seeds and absently pop one into my mouth.
“Just thinking about which way to get in there,” my dad growls. He is circling and mumbling and finally, approaches the pumpkin. His hand hovers above the pen-drawn eye, coming close, then backing away. Every time he starts to cut, I find myself holding my breath and, when he pulls back, I breathe again. If he keeps this up, I’ll pass out.
My mother can’t take it any longer – “Oh, for the love of Pete! Just give me the knife!”
This will not be our experience. I’ve taken my three children on an informative, eco-friendly hay ride, culminating in a visit to the organic, free-range pumpkin patch. They’ve each picked a pumpkin (because everyone deserves their own pumpkin) and, together, we pick a family pumpkin (symbolizing our cumulative love). I purchase a complete set of pumpkin carving tools and an instructional booklet. After careful consultation with Pinterest, I remove the top in a way which will maximize candle glow and the kids gleefully remove the pumpkin guts with specially designed, kid safe pumpkin gut scoopers.
They even like the seeds.
“Happy or scary mouth?” I ask.
“I want the cast of Glee!”, my oldest yells.
“Ariel!”, says the six year old, “Riding a dolphin!”
“Dat GUY! On dat SHOW!” The three year old is busy shoving pumpkin into his pants.
I spend the next six hours making templates and poking thousands of tiny holes in outline on the pumpkins. By the time I’m done, my legs have gone numb and my right hand is cramped into an arthritic claw.
“Okay! Let’s carve these things!” I yell to the kids. Reluctantly, they turn off their iPads and iPods and TVs and shuffle into the kitchen. Even my husband is there, his head cocked to the side. “What is that?”, he asks.
“Ariel,” I sigh, “Riding a dolphin. Except, now I can’t really tell what part I’m supposed to cut out.” We stand there for a minute, thinking about it, then my husband grabs one of the specialty tools from the carving kit.
“Stand back,” he says, and starts circling the table.
“Oh, for the love of Pete!”, I yell. “Just give me the knife!”