Growing up, my family didn’t carve pumpkins on Halloween. I remember painting a few (including an awesome Ninja Turtle pumpkin that I made my mom paint when I was probably about 6 years old), but I can’t ever recall watching anybody in my family murder and gut a pumpkin in the name of All Hallow’s Eve. Mary Jane’s family, however, carved a pumpkin every year, so we decided to make that our Halloween tradition with Susan.
The only problem was that I had approximately zero experience in pumpkin carving – other than the Jack O’ Lantern debacle of 2007, which is something that I’m still trying to move past. However, as a dad I'm supposed to have "Dad Skills" to make up for all the times I put Susan's pants on backwards, bump her head while playing airplane and let her watch football when she should instead be napping. Pumpkin carving is very much a dad skill, so the job of crafting the World’s Greatest Jack O’ Lantern fell squarely on my shoulders. Succeed, and I could proudly display my handiwork in photo albums for years to come. Susan would come to idolize me for my pumpkin-crafting skills, and one day she would brag to her husband how awesome her daddy was at carving pumpkins and that he would never ever be as good as me, no matter how hard he tried. Maybe the Louvre would call wanting to preserve my pumpkin for their next Fruit Art exhibit (is a pumpkin a fruit?). But if I failed and gave the pumpkin three eyes or a crooked smile or made it look like Sloth from The Goonies, then Susan’s first Halloween would be ruined and she’d see me as a disappointment as a father for the rest of her life. Or so go your thoughts as a first-time father when it comes to making something for your daughter.
Things didn’t start off well, because to carve a pumpkin you actually NEED a pumpkin to carve and that’s not something we just have stored away in the attic. “We’ll just get one a few days before Halloween,” we thought. “They may be a little picked over, and what’s left may have those weird white spots and a little plagiocephaly, but we’ll find one that works. It’ll be like adopting the ugly dog at the pound that nobody wants but later turns out to save your life after you’ve fallen down a well or gotten crushed under a monster truck tire.” The Cooks’ First Pumpkin: It would make for a great ABC Family original.
So two days before Halloween, we set out to the Pumpkin Headquarters that is Wal-Mart in search of our flawed-but-special pumpkin. Except when we got to Wal-Mart, all they had were those stupid gourds that stores try to pass off as funky, non-conformist, anti-establishment pumpkins that you find on the doorsteps of hipsters who feel the need to push back against the social restrictions placed on Halloween by “The Man”. Not even Gallagher wants those pumpkins. (I apologize if any of you reading this bought those gourds...I commend you for your non-conformity)
|Even Gallagher isn't enough of a hipster to buy a gourd on Halloween.|
Our next stop was Home Depot, which was another letdown since we were told that all of their pumpkins rotted. We said a prayer for the lost souls who would never get to fulfill their purpose of being carved and were instead tossed in the dumpster out back where the raccoons and possums would eat their sweet insides. At that point, Susan was getting tired and fussy so we decided to give up and try our best to avoid any future conversation about how we failed her as parents during her first Halloween. We went home thinking all was lost and that we both failed at giving her her first Jack O’ Lantern before dad even had a chance to screw up the carving.
It was bad. Until Mary saved the day.
It’s sad that I'm conditioned to think that if Wal-Mart doesn’t have something, then it’s likely that nobody else will. It was the day before Halloween; I had given up all hope and was even pondering buying a hippie gourd as a poor substitute. Then Mary, who realized at some point in the day that our forefathers never went to Wal-Mart for pumpkins but instead got theirs from a PUMPKIN PATCH, called me and said, “I GOT THE PUMPKIN! THREE OF THEM!!!” Then she went on about some project where we carve out the other two pumpkins and put flowers in it or something – I’m honestly not really sure, because my mind was already locked in on the perfect plan of attack for making Susan’s first Jack O’ Lantern the best she would ever see. It would need triangle eyes, a big open grin and three teeth – exactly three teeth, no more, no less.
When I got home to see the pumpkins, they were all magnificent, but it was clear which one would sacrifice it’s rind and innards to become Susan’s first pumpkin. It was huge and round and orange and had the perfect surface to carve out a face. Linus would have shat his pants had he seen this thing.
We set out newspapers in the garage and put Susan on the floor. Mary sat in a chair, keeping Susan at a safe distance so as not to disturb me from my work. I doubt Leonardo Da Vinci had to constantly keep a handsy baby at bay when he painted the Mona Lisa, so I consider myself an even bigger success than he was that I was able to do this with Susan trying to “help.”
I started to draw the outline of the face in permanent marker, but Mary subtly suggested that I use a pencil...in case I “changed my mind” about what I wanted it to look like (in wife-speak, meaning if I mucked it up). I took her suggestion and started to trace, but I didn’t have an idea of what I wanted it to look like. I needed something to model it after, something that has a few teeth and smiles all the time. The dog? Too many teeth. Mary? Telling her that her face was the perfect model for our pumpkin didn’t seem in my best interest. Susan?
Using the pencil, I traced the outline and used two knives (one of which was a nice steak knife that I didn’t get permission to use...sorry Mary) to carve the eyes, which popped out in two perfect triangles. I tried to show Susan how GREAT of a job her daddy was doing, but she was too busy stuffing newspaper into her mouth to care. The pumpkin’s mouth was next, and while it took me about 15 minutes to cut it out, it turned out perfect. I showed Susan, she tried to claw out the eyes, and I took that as her way of saying, “OH MY GOSH THIS IS THE GREATEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN THANK YOU DAD YOU ARE THE GREATEST FATHER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD AND I WILL NEVER FORGET THIS.” And I was pretty pleased with myself.
|Greatest Jack O' Lantern she has ever seen.|
I proudly placed the pumpkin on our doorstep where something like 80 trick-or-treaters saw it that night. Now we have this awesome picture to put in our photo album and a great memory from Susan’s first Halloween. Also I’m not a disappointment as a father, and most importantly, I didn't have to write a blog about "The Halloween when Daddy lost a finger."