It was just four seeds. Really. I didn’t even know if they’d grow, because I was leaving the country in a few days and wouldn’t be there to baby them. But they did, and now I have twenty-foot vines sprawling over the garden and nineteen pumpkins. One vine has even climbed over the wire fence and a portentous pumpkin dangles several feet off the ground. If I were very small and my husband couldn’t keep me, he would have his choice of shells in which to put me. I have no idea what that nursery rhyme means. It apparently has a second verse, too: Peter, Peter pumpkin eater, had another and didn’t love her; Peter learned to read and spell, and then he loved her very well. I find the pumpkin, even uncarved, both cheerful and a little ominous.
Now I have plenty of pumpkins to carve. Or I could make pie, but I loathe pumpkin pie. It’s a slimy abomination that even whipped cream can’t fix. Pumpkins grow well around here, it seems. Lately, several times a day, tractors pulling trains of long trailers drive down our road carrying giant, playhouse-sized cardboard totes of pumpkins—a pumpkin parade. Hundreds and hundreds of pumpkins passing by, awaiting porches and knives. If you live anywhere near me, there’s some chance that the pumpkin you purchase for Halloween has ridden past my house.
I do like carving jack-o-lanterns, but not in any truly artistic way. Each year, we get two pumpkins and spend about twenty minutes hacking away in the kitchen. Cris’ style runs towards the pointy and slit-like. Mine leans more on howling circles. Then we put candles in them and stick them on the stone wall of the porch. The Farmette looks a bit haunted, and we’ve never had a single trick-or-treater in the twelve years we’ve been here; we face the lanterns towards our window and watch them flicker.
When we were kids, my sister and I always took our time, drawing our designs on the orange skin with ball-point pens, our pumpkins resting on newspaper on the kitchen table. I wonder how many kids get their first real experience with sharp knives carving pumpkins, along with a good lesson in choices one can’t undo. With pumpkin carving, you have to accept what the blade removes. We lived in Wisconsin, and the pumpkins sat outdoors, and sometimes they were icy cold when we stuck our hands in to pull out the seed and fiber guts.
Our jack-o-lanterns usually linger around until they rot, their expressions growing more and more pained, their mouths curling inward, black mold filling their skulls. Cris has to remove them from the porch with a shovel and toss them on the compost pile. The generations of empty heads blend together, in my mind, in the soil. And there I keep them, very well.