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2006 11 01
Angle of Incident #28: Jack O’ Lanterns In The Morning

By Gary Michael Dault

We didn’t really do Halloween this year.

My children are grown, and their Halloween is parties and get-togethers now.

Malgorzata, who is Polish, didn’t have our kind of Halloween as a girl, and admitted to me, walking home last night along inky streets crowded with miniature princesses, little skeleton-faced wraiths wearing sneakers, assorted superheroes, and gangly adolescent spooks with one begrudging, store-bought mask and no costume other than an embarrassed, hang-dog look, that she didn’t understand Halloween at all.

This morning, over coffee, I try to convey to her something of the one-time, long-ago enchantment of it. “Well, there was all that candy, I suppose”, she ventures. “No, no,” I tell her, “it wasn’t the candy.”

I tell her about my own Halloween, so many decades ago: how we’d go out as group of five or six, about how thrilling it was to mount alien steps and knock on the doors of houses we didn’t know, how we’d somehow hear about really great treats at a certain house or other—at some house eight streets away. “An old lady over on Bagot Street is giving out popcorn balls!” Somebody else knew where there were candy apples. “I thought you weren’t supposed to give children things like that,” says Malgorzata. “That was before hidden razor blades”, I tell her. “Before poisons. Before psychopaths. Before madness, child-abuse, before…I don’t know, before danger,” I tell her. Everyone’s youth was safe and innocent.

“And you thought about your costume for weeks before!” Malgorzata tells me she can’t imagine my making a costume. “Our mothers made them”, I explain. “We just hung around the sewing machine and watched”.

“Tell me about the candy”. M doesn’t see the point of the Great Gathering. “How could you eat all that candy?

“You didn’t eat it all. You just collected it. The bag got heavier and heavier as you went along. When you finally got home and took off your mask—which, by the way was, by that time, intolerably hot and sweaty—you spread all the candy on the carpet and began separating it into categories: candy apples and popcorn balls (the kings and queens of the Halloween treat), little piles of miniature chocolate bars (greatly treasured spoils), and sometimes, though rarely, real, full-size chocolate bars, lollipops (which were the next category down), jelly beans (good, if there were enough of them), ordinary apples (which were boring to the point of insult), and mounds—slag-heaps—of those horrible, molasses-imbued candy kisses, shapeless brown things wrapped in brown and orange paper and twisted at the ends. People who didn’t really like Halloween—or children—would give you those.

“What about money?” “Sometimes you got money, but it was just pennies. Pennies were just as boring as apples”.

“So did you eat all those sweets?” “No, you ate as much as your parents would let you eat right away, and then you could have a little more the next morning and maybe take some to school. The rest just lay in the bag until finally your mother threw it all out a week later.”

“Tell me about Jack 0’ Lanterns”, says Malgorzarta. “Did you make them for Meredith and Julia and Alex?”

Indeed I did. I enjoyed carving the pumpkin. It felt so ambitious somehow, so deliberate. Even selecting the pumpkin you wanted was a matter of grave importance. It had to be plump and round—not flat or saggy on one side. And it had to be bright clear orange everywhere—no dark places or mouldy, pebbly spots.

“I used to spread newspapers on the dining-room table and carve it there”. I explain to her. “I loved slicing the top off (the first opening was never big enough) and scooping out all the sweet-sour flesh and seeds”. Which always smelled so strangely “internal”. I always meant to roast and salt the seeds—better organised parents always did—but somehow I never got around to it.

“And the carving?” Malgorzata asks. The carving. Yes, you had to be Michelangelo, Rodin. And sometimes, for a half an hour, you were. “You’d draw the face on the pumpkin (it was always too elaborate art first) and them go at it with a kitchen knife—first tentatively and them with accelerating confidence. The kids were gathered around watching all this, of course, so you had to be at the top of your form. I always cut out the nose first—it sort of anchored the design. Then the eyes and, sometimes, if I felt ambitious, eyebrows. I always kept the mouth, with its crenulated teeth, until the end.

“Did you carve the same face every year?” Malgorzata asks. “Exactly the same one, yes”. I try to pass this off as a virtue—as consistency. The truth is, I always wanted to spread my wings and carve a rococo masterwork, but I always lost my nerve and reverted to the standard face.

Malgorzata pours us more coffee. “Why don’t we do it again?” “What, Halloween?” “Yes”, she says. “Next year”. “Just the two of us?” “Why not?” she says.
Why not indeed? I’m thinking, as I start to scramble our eggs.
[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 11/01 at 01:30 PM

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