Menticia carves a jack-o-lantern
One of the great things about being a mentor is getting a second chance to do something for the first time. Ten-year-old Menticia asked if we could carve a pumpkin for Halloween - nobody in her family had ever done one.
At the supermarket she had me haul several promising pumpkins out of huge cardboard boxes (I had to hoist her up so she could see all the choices and point out her favorites). We put the best candidates in a row and rotated them slowly, deliberating.
Menticia eventually made her choice. She was casual as I hauled the heavy pumpkin into the store to pay for it, but afterwards it was "ours" and she was very vigilant. "I don't think you should carry it by its stem. It might fall on the sidewalk." She was spotting it as I carried it to the van and nestled it in her lap on the way home.
Me: "Let's carve it out on the back porch, bring some newspapers." She delicately started to lay out one leaf of newspaper at a time. "No, don't be stingy, LOTS of newspaper!"
It was a little scary seeing my huge sharp knife in her tiny, slender hand. I let her plunge it all the way in and waggle it a few times, as we cut the top off, but after that she "scored" the cuts with a smaller knife and I did the heavy stabbing.
Have you noticed there are two kinds of pumpkins these days? The old fashioned ones, yellow-orange and heavy, and the new-fangled ones, orange-orange and light and fluffy? We had the old kind.
When we got the top off she looked inside and said, "it's so dry!" After scrape, scrape, scraping and scooping out handfuls of glop, she allowed as how it was wet enough after all.
Then it was time to design the face. Menticia, who thinks I have quite a library, was disappointed this time: "You don't have a book we can look in to see how to do this??? What do people usually carve on pumpkins???"
I hadn't seen this collection so we just had to wing it. I drew a selection of archetypal eyes, eyebrows, noses, and mouths, and she very soberly selected from among them and then most deliberately practiced drawing the proposed face several times on scrap paper. She then transferred the face onto the pumpkin with a sharpie and started to stab. Disaster loomed when a piece of pumpkin broke off -- but we kluged it back together with some 8-penny finish nails.
At last we put the candle in. Even though it was still afternoon she insisted on lighting it and going out across the grass to assess the effect.
She carried it in her lap all the way home. I told her to keep it on the porch, as teenage boys are sometimes irresistibly drawn to Smashing Pumpkins, and she said that was her plan already.
I talked to her the next day and she said her brother and sisters were planning to buy another pumpkin and do one themselves. I felt I'd transmitted a grand tradition.
Postscript: we did this a week ago, and today Menticia told me her mom threw the pumpkin away because it had some mold in it. Gee, when I was a kid we left the pumpkins on the front stoop till they liquefied (usually around Easter the following year).
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