I've been wanting to write this story down for years. I've listened to my dad retell it at every pumpkin-carving Family Home Evening for over twenty years, and now, we finally have it down for posterity. I'm glad this blog gave me the push I needed to create it. I have a deep affection for each character as well as this story. Allow me to take you back to October in Salt Lake City in 1967.
By Andilyn Jenkins
Halloween was less than a week away. Snow hadn’t fallen yet, but the air held its breath against the crisp frost around the corner. Red, orange, and half-green leaves scattered the frost-bitten grass along the highway. And as the pale, blue Chevy rushed past, the leaves swirled up in its wake, waving to the fat orange pumpkins collected in the Chevy’s bed.
“I think my pumpkin’s going to have a scary face. I’m going to give it two big fangs and evil eyes,” announced the blonde-haired boy as he bounced in his seat. His cheeks flushed pink, both from the cold and at the excitement of selecting the pumpkins for his family—six brothers and one sister.
“Now don’t get too riled up, Michael. You be careful carving that pumpkin,” replied Dad, a big man whose taste for responsibility rivaled his addiction to his wife’s sweet breads.
“Yes, sir,” said Michael, taking that as an order to sit still during the rest of the ride home. The minutes passed slowly before Michael’s father exclaimed and brought the truck to a stop at the side of the road.
“What is it, Dad?” Michael questioned. His Dad rarely lost composure.
“Darn black widow crawling up my pant leg. I’m lucky I saw it.”
“Can I see it?” Michael eagerly pressed. His infatuation with bugs, spiders in particular, drowned out any foreboding.
“No, son. I already swatted her,” Dad replied steadily, back on task.
They pulled into the driveway and unloaded their haul from the pumpkin patch onto the back porch. When Forrest, Michael’s younger brother by eighteen months, came out to assist, Dad left them to it.
“Forrest, you pick your pumpkin. I’m going to get the supplies from Mom,” ordered Michael as he slid open the glass door and bolted inside.
“Hey, Mom? Forrest and I are going to carve some of the pumpkins. Can I get a knife?” The seven-year-old boy asked matter-of-factly, expecting the largest carving knife for his obviously large job.
“Of course, Michael. Let me see what I’ve got,” Mom answered promptly. Her thick, dark hair pinned and tucked comfortably out of her face framed by horn-rimmed spectacles. She wiped her floury hands on her apron and opened a drawer, producing a small, short paring knife. “Here you are; that should do the trick,” Mom reasoned with a sweet smile, and without giving Michael a chance to demur, she went back to kneading her bread.
Michael clutched the paring knife and hustled back out the door. A small knife it may be, but it was a knife and would do the job. The little sculptors wasted no time in planning and preparation. They shared their mother’s paring knife, which Michael took first. He sunk it into his pumpkin, grasping the handle as though he were driving a stake into the ground. The squeaky squash cracked as Michael twisted the knife around and pulled open his carved lid. Michael set the knife aside and purged the pumpkin of its guts with his bare hands. Forrest followed suit.
Soon, the two boys were elbow-deep in orange goop and pumpkin seeds. Their excitement to carve the pumpkins didn’t extend far enough to tools for cleaning out the pumpkin, so they scratched at the walls with their fingernails and most of the slippery, stringy contents stayed in place. Once all the loose bits were cleaned out, however, they tired of the cleaning and once again, handled the paring knife.
Michael grasped the slick handle tightly in his clenched fist, the blade facing away from his body. He sat on his knees and had turned the pumpkin on its side and locked it between his legs for leverage. He deliberated while picturing his Jack-O-Lantern’s face then plunged the knife into the decided eye-socket.
“Shhhhhh-t!” Michael drew in a quick breath through clenched teeth as the puny paring knife toppled to the ground. He grabbed his right pinky and ring finger with his left hand and blinked through the quick pain then opened both hands to look at the damage. Forrest scurried up the porch steps to look over Michael’s shoulder. Before the blood began spewing from Michael’s little finger, Michael clearly saw tissue and bone.
“Want me to get you a Band-Aid?” asked Forrest.
“No, Forrest. I think this is too deep for a Band-Aid. We’d better go get Mom,” Michael reasoned. And both boys, with pumpkin seeds in their hair and orange, dried guts on their sweatshirts, blue jeans, and arms stood up and went inside.