In high school my church youth group sponsored an outing to a local haunted house, billed as a safe and wholesome Halloween activity. It was not for me! Once inside the dark, confined tunnel-like space I was immediately bombarded with shrieks and screams, ghouls in bloody garb– faces grotesquely disfigured by elaborate Hollywood makeup–brandishing large hunks of meat as clubs and weapons threateningly staged to maximize disgust.
Initially the actor-players were on display while we were ushered through the rooms theatrically staged with mock-guillotine scenes, boiling cauldrons with body parts strewn about, and an electric chair repeatedly executing the un-dead. But as the queue of onlookers moved deeper into the interior the actors began to leave their posts, ghouls and monsters popping out of dark corners waving bloody meat in our faces. I don’t remember more because I think I nearly fainted. My final memory is discovering upon exiting that somewhere along the way I’d tightly wrapped myself around some poor stranger who apparently took pity on a hysterical girl and must have guided me out.
This may explain why I don’t get into all the adult-sized goblin and horror thrills of Halloween, as do many of my friends, but I do enjoy experiencing the occasion with children. This year we won’t be with Sophia and Karina for Halloween evening, but we were the advance-team providing pre-Halloween warm-up. I was able to camera-in-hand go trick-or-treating with Sophia’s preschool class. Dozens of neighborhood businesses opened their doors to the costumed children and their parents, generously welcoming them in and distributing candy. It was 85 degrees and the children were melting in their costumes, but it was fun!
And then the annual carving of the pumpkins! This is their grandfather’s annual specialty! Since the time our own two children were young he has enthusiastically claimed the pumpkin carving as his contribution to Halloween. He easily enjoys it MORE than anyone else!
Papa has a very particular technique, and we have to occasionally slow him down, reminding him to watch the knives! He is the consummate big kid…throwing pumpkin guts and pretending to eat the raw, stringy insides. The girls laugh and follow suit. There isn’t much attention to detail, and the jack-o-lantern faces aren’t artistically creative, but he speedily moves through the carvings and prepares each one for the candle.
This year I was struck to hear something for the first time! Before the pumpkins were even completed he was directing Aimee to gather candles. It was still light outside and the idea of combining flame with a two-year-old wasn’t high on her to-do list, but he was insistent enough that she complied. After only a few minutes he asked, “Don’t you love that smell?” Uh, what smell? He repeated several times how much he loved the smell of the inside of the pumpkin, warmed, or even a bit scorched, by the candle.
Really? It didn’t smell like anything at all to us. And that’s when decades of enthusiastic pumpkin carving with no particular attention to the faces but get-to- the- end result and put a candle in it made sense! “I used to do this with my dad. I always think of Genoa Street when I smell the candle in the jack-o-lantern.”
For a moment we were hushed. Jay was ten years old when he lost his dad to an accident-related injury. And for fifty years the Halloween pumpkin carving has apparently been a tradition memorializing a special father-son moment, emotions and memory triggered by the smell of that burnt pumpkin! It speaks to me of many things, but perhaps nothing more profoundly than the importance of being truly present for even the smallest of moments. And I also learned that after 40 years of marriage you still could learn something new about your partner-in-life!
Happy Halloween and be sure to appreciate even the smallest of traditions! Debra
- Why Do We Carve Pumpkins for Halloween, Anyway? (homeschoolinghelicoptermama.wordpress.com)