Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Pumpkin-carving Party


Jake was the judge of our annual pumpkin contest. Guess whose pumpkin won first place.


Friday night was Mom’s annual pumpkin-carving party. I came over after work, carrying two pumpkins, and Mom’s house seemed so inviting. There were bowls of Halloween candy on the table—orange saltwater taffies and gummy mummy pops. A big pot of sweet-potato soup was simmering on the stove, and Pillsbury crescent rolls were browning in the oven. The tablecloth in the dining room was black lace and looked like a fancy spider web. . . .

Everybody was out back at the picnic table, already hard at work carving. Mom was wearing one of her many Halloween T-shirts. This particular one glowed in the dark. “I have three Halloween T-shirts,” Mom said proudly. “And do you know I’ve worn every single one this year!”

Mom had made all the ladies special fall aprons to wear while we were carving. Sophie got one too, in a cheerful harvest print. She looked so cute, hard at work in her apron, the dotted horsemint and swamp sunflowers blooming all around her, lush purple and gold, glowing in the sunset.

Sophie was being so good, working so hard; she had the great idea that her pumpkin was going to be throwing up. She’s so funny. She is the cleanest, tidiest child who generally hates to get her hands or feet dirty. But then sometimes a strange mood will come over her and she can’t resist rolling in the mud . . . or reveling in pumpkin guts. That's what happened to her at the party. The mood came over her. She had a whole bowl of pumpkin guts that she was going use to make throw up, and she couldn’t help continually squeezing the guts and rolling them into balls and throwing a few of those balls at whiny little Jake. . . .

Jake was having a bad day. He was cranky because he got up too early, so he kept getting in trouble. In fact, he spent most of the pumpkin-carving party pouting. There is this place in Mom’s yard that we always called The Secret Garden (it’s overgrown and hidden away), and Jake spent a large part of the party pouting there, sitting under the giant oak leaf hydrangeas with his arms crossed and his bottom lip sticking out. Kris kept trying to appease him. She played tag with him while the rest of us carved. But he was never quite satisfied. He kept accusing her of cheating and “not even caring.” His accusations were completely groundless and quite hilarious. “You cheated and you don’t even care!” he’d cry, truly outraged. “You do not even care, Mommy!”

He kept getting bored and wanting to start some new activity. “Hey, who wants to have an egg race?” he cried in a hopeful sort of way.

“Uh, I think you’ve got your holidays confused there, Jake,” Matt said.

“How about you have to run carrying a tub of pumpkin guts on your head?” Kris suggested. But Jake didn’t like that idea. The smell of pumpkin guts makes him gag.

Sophie was being so serious about her carving. She and Bun and I sat in the grass together, working.

“Did you know that Martha Stewart is available on demand?” Sophie said. I loved the way she was making such polite, ladylike conversation. “She’s got some great ideas for Halloween. “

“Like what?” I asked.

“Well, um, you can make these eyeballs out of golf balls. You just take some, like, construction paper and cut out the pupil . . . and the iris. . . . And you can draw, like, veins. . . . They’re really cool. . . .”

Bunny told us how she and Matt like to pretend their cat Jelly sells things on eBay--stray socks and bits of string and other stuff she finds in corners and carries around in her mouth, then hides in the fireplace.

Matt joined us and said, "What was that funny thing that happened this week that we wanted to tell Leslie about?"

"I don't know," Bun said. "I already told her about Jelly's eBay site."

Matt thought for a minute. ". . . Well, that was our week!" he said sheepishly.

"But, man, was it funny!" Bun said.

Then Jake ran up and punched Sophie in the stomach.

“Stop!” Sophie cried. “Mommy! He punched me in the stomach!”

“Okay, Jake!” Kris cried. “You’re going home! I warned you!”

“I’m not going home,” Jake said with a sort of forced nonchalance.

“I warned you,” Kris replied.

“No, you didn’t,” Jake said.

Kris rolled her eyes: “You don’t remember the entire ride over here?”

Apparently the two of them had been going at it all day.

Bunny was very nervous about her pumpkin. She always wants her pumpkin to be scary—every year—but it always turns out cute. This year she was determined to carve a scary pumpkin. She made sketches for about an hour before she even made the first cut. She gave her pumpkin a scar and one shrunken eye. But somehow, amazingly, it still looked jolly.

“Oh, how cute!” Rob said, and then he saw Bunny’s face: “I mean, scary. That is the scariest pumpkin!”

Rob’s pumpkin was a triumph as usual. He spent about five minutes on it and it turned out truly bizarre--and truly inspired! It looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, or maybe like Igor of Frankenstein fame.

It was so neat seeing all the jack o’lanterns lit and lined up on the picnic table, glowing in the dark. It was a perfect fall night, warm with a full moon.

After we hogged out on Mom’s sweet-potato soup, warm pasta and spinach salad, crescent rolls, kale chips, and baked apples, we played a game of ghost in the graveyard, a game we knew was doomed because Jake was in such a crazy bad mood. It was fun to be running around in the shadows, in Mom’s jungle-y yard. But Jake was not to be trifled with! On our first round, the boys were hiding and the girls were chasing. I came upon Rob and Jake in the darkness, and I could see that Rob was carrying Jake. Then, suddenly, Rob threw Jake at me, crying, “Here! You can have him!” So I tagged Jake and tickled him, and Rob ran away into the night.

Well, of course Jake started crying. He was crying so dejectedly, saying, “It was a trick! Rob played a mean trick! It isn’t fair!”

He went in the house and sat crying with his arms crossed, and Rob had to go in and apologize and explain that he was only trying to be funny and promise that we’d do that round over and that it didn’t count.

So Jake came outside again, cheerfully talking trash with tears on his face. And we played again, but Jake was soon sobbing even harder than before. See, he ran to the Adirondack chair instead of the swing so Sophie tagged him, and he said, "It doesn't count, Sophie. I already made it to the base."

And Kris said, “Um, the swing is the base.” And Jake said, “You said the chair was!”

And Kris said, softly, “Uh, I actually said it was the swing.”

And so Jake started crying and crossed his arms again and ran away. “You lied about the base, Mommy!” he cried.

And so we had to comfort him and apologize and do that round over too. And this time we let him get to the base. Nobody dared to even touch him! Bun tagged Matt and I tagged Rob, but we let Jake go so he’d be happy. And he was happy for about a second, celebrating and talking trash. But then he began to get a nagging feeling. He began to feel that maybe his victory was a hollow one. He said softly, sadly, putting his head down, “Mommy, I don’t feel like I really won in my tummy.”

Rob tried to comfort him and help him ease his conscience. He tried to get him to settle down and watch a kids’ show.

“I don’t remember being like that as a kid,” Kris said to me later. “I know I must have had temper tantrums, but I don’t remember it.”

“Oh, I do,” Rob said. “I had them all the time. There are even pictures. Yep. It's well documented. It was a problem.”

Jake stayed at Mom’s to rest while Sophie, Bun, Kris, Rob, and I took a walk in the nearby cemetery (Roselawn Cemetery). Mom gave us flashlights to take along. Of course, they were all kind of weird and old. One was a tiny dental flashlight. (Why does Mom have a dental flashlight?) Kris got that one.

“What?!” Kris cried. “Mom gave me a flashlight that you have to keep pushing in the whole time?! It shuts off immediately if I stop pushing the button.”

“Kris,” Rob said, “that’s really not the weirdest thing about that flashlight.”

We were walking down Mom’s street, Avon Circle, the street where we grew up.

“I don’t really have a lot of confidence in the battery situation here,” Bun said. (When we were kids, a live battery was always tough to come by at our house.) “We better turn off our flashlights if we want them to still be working by the time we get to the cemetery.”

As we walked in the moonlight in the cemetery, under the gothic old live oaks, Kris told this funny story about Jake: “Today Jake told me he thought it would be a good idea if we started praying together as a family. ‘It’s fun!’ he said, trying to persuade me. ‘I especially like that almond part!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I guess we better start learning the basics. . . .’”

The moonlight was so magical. The full moon was the same color as the softly shining tombstones, only brighter. And the trees were so huge and inky, dripping with black moss. We talked about scary dreams we’ve had lately, and Bunny remembered her childhood spent playing in the cemetery. “It was a happy place to me,” she said. “It was never sad or scary.”

When we got back to Mom’s house, Sophie taught me how to make a koala bear out of modeling clay while Jake played on Mom’s computer and acted very anti-social (“Jake won’t even talk to me,” I kept teasing). Sophie was a very patient teacher. “Now you want to take a piece of clay about this big and turn it into a little bowl,” she said in a cheerful, encouraging voice. “Actually, you need to make two bowls. . . . Um, you might want your bowls to be a little thicker. Yeah, that’s good. Good job. . . . And now you need to make a little coil for his foot. Do you know how to make a coil? Do you want me to make one for you? It’s really easy. There, now you’ve got a foot. See? . . . Okay, and now you need to make some little balls for his eyes. Like this. You might want to make them a little smaller. . . . Hummy, do you have a strainer?! . . . We have to use a strainer to make the hair. Do you want a little hair or a lot of hair? You can decide. It’s really up to you. . . .”

Mom packed my finished koala in one of her funny old Cool Whip containers so I could take it home. Mom finds so many uses for old Cool Whip containers, it is truly amazing. In general, you can’t leave her house without a Cool Whip container full of something. That's because Mom is so generous, even more giving than the Giving Tree--really.

When Jake realized the party was wrapping up, he was full of regrets. “Oh no! Mommy!” he cried. “The party’s over and I was bad the whole time!”

He cried a little on the way home.


Sophie, master pumpkin carver



Sophie's barfing pumpkin



Clay koalas and a baby, made by Sophie and me

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