Jacked O' Lantern

Last Halloween, I carved some really kick-ass jack o’ lanterns. Unfortunately, I still hadn’t gotten the hang of factoring in the effects of warm southern California sunshine on a piece of dead fruit. Growing up in Boston, I remember that we could get at least a good week or more of display time before our creations had to be discarded. But here it apparently takes no more than 2 days for your masterpieces to implode upon themselves and take on an unintended frightening appearance (think fuzzy green and white spores).

So this year when my neighborhood supermarket hauled out their annual pumpkin stand display, I didn’t even think about it. More than 3 weeks to go. No point. But Marcus, on the other hand, was a tad more susceptible to the Pavilions marketing department’s efforts. “Is it time yet, dad?” “How about today?” “It’s getting close to Halloween, I think” “How many minutes is three weeks?” “Halloween is this weekend.”

For once, I had a good answer: “If we make the jack o’ lantern now, it’ll rot by the time Halloween comes along. Remember what happened last year?”

Each time I said that, Marcus would quietly accept it. But it wasn’t acceptance. He was merely regrouping – figuring out plan B.

He waited until this past Monday, when he had Columbus Day off and I had work-from-home duty. He started the day by planting that first seed in my head.

“Dad, I need to practice.”
“Practice what?”
“I need to practice making a jack o’ lantern. Can I open those tools?”

We had just purchased one of those deluxe 10-piece jack o’ lantern carving sets the day before (the old butter knife and spoon technique is a lost art) and I could empathize with this excitement.

“Well, I don’t really want you using those tools by themselves. There’s nothing to cut around he-- ”

As soon as my brain transmitted the emergency “Rephrase! Rephrase!” command, I felt the tree branch cinch that loop tight around my ankle and catapult me into the air, still clenching that fresh carrot in my teeth. Dammit!

“So that means I need a practice pumpkin!”

As I sat there contemplating how I got duped again by simple logic, I came to a realization. A practice pumpkin is a damn good idea. After all, is the jack o’ lantern that much fun after it’s finished? Not really. Isn’t it the “journey” of disemboweling, carving and creating that makes the destination worth looking forward to in the first place? Absolutely. And kid-sized pumpkins are plentiful and cheap this time of year.

That evening we brought home a nice $2 practice pumpkin, broke out the new tools and Marcus went to town. I baked pumpkin seeds, didn’t stress about cutting the right shapes, and even cleared out a rack in the playroom beer fridge to store his creation for later practice.


Yup, this knife works. Next!

So dads, you’ve got 3 weeks left. Gather your cutting implements, clear a spot in your backyard or patio, lay some newspaper down, pick up 4 or 5 small pumpkins, gather the kids and get into the true spirit of Halloween by hacking stuff up all month long. We’ve got a tradition to start here!

And you know what? If “practice jacking” ever becomes something that the US Pumpkin Grower’s Association decides to promote to stimulate pre-season sales, I can take full credit and perhaps a nice revenue share to boot. Thanks, son!