Smashing Pumpkins

In 2015 an estimated 7 billion dollars was spent on Halloween in the U.S. This might be a surprise to some but I can see it. I would also wager that a chunk of that money is spent on the grand master of all the Halloween Decorations, the pumpkin. If you have purchased any lately you’ll know that pumpkins are pretty expensive even for that big of a piece of fruit. Supply, demand, short buying season…. I get it, they’re a commodity, kind of like orange gold. 
I know this all to well because I have been enchanted with pumpkins ever since my kids were little. Simply seeing a pumpkin sparks memories of burning leaves, cooler temperatures and cooking hot dogs and smores over a nice warm fire. Each year we would make the pilgrimage to the local pumpkin patch to embrace all the season’s traditions. The warm cider, the face painting, kettle corn and of course selecting the perfect pumpkins. Sure the prices were nearly double that of retail but it was worth it, we were not only buying the blessed orange orbs, we were also making memories. 

Once we had our pumpkin patch pickings safely home we would place them on the front porch for all to see. Each of us had chosen the perfect carver but we always bought more because if the temperature was right they could provide decoration all the way to Thanksgiving. Show me a Christmas ornament that has that staying power…. and we’re not going to count the “Easter lights” you have hanging around for months. 
A couple weeks before Halloween we’d clear off the dining room table and get out the cache of tools. Stencils and markers to create the face and then knives, scrapers and tiny saws to make the magic. I’d preheat the oven so I could make my mom’s special pumpkin seed recipe. (don’t tell anybody but it’s pumpkin seeds and salt) Then we would all gather around and start cutting. Try and find me a kid that doesn’t get a huge smile on her face when she sticks her hands into the gooey insides of a pumpkin, there’s nothing quite like it. Once we were done with our creations everyone would gather their art and head to the front porch for the grand lighting event. We would stand back facing the house to make sure they were all placed properly while each of us bragged about the specific properties that made theirs the best. 
Then we moved to Maryville. The above all held true that fateful year but things made a serious turn for the worse the morning after the grand reveal. As I remember it my daughter, probably nine at the time, came racing into the house, tears streaming down her face. 
“They’re gone,” she exclaimed, “they’re all gone!” 
I jumped to my feet knowing that she could only be referring to our front porch ornamental offerings. As I exited the house it was quickly apparent that all the pumpkins, both carved and whole, were indeed longer in their places. Fearing the worst I walked a few steps down the sidewalk. After more than a decade of peace it was apparent that we had been visited by a marauding group of punks who had smashed every last one of our pumpkins on the street. I turned to see my crestfallen daughter. 
“Don’t worry honey, even if I have to skip lunch all this week, we will get more pumpkins, we will re-carve…. they will not defeat us” again, that is how I remember it, my wife might recall slightly more colorful language. 

We did go buy more pumpkins but only enough to carve. We gathered the tools and tried to recreate the feeling but we were all a little defeated. The Jak o’lanterns spent that year in our living room. Thanks to the warmth of the house they began to droop, seemingly over night, it was fitting though as it matched my mood. 
The next October rolled around and the kids had all but forgotten the pumpkin massacre the year before but the image of the carnage kept running through my mind. We went to the pumpkin patch and I couldn’t help but think it was quite a bit of money to spend on something that might be gone in a few days. 
“Dad, look at how big this one is,” my son said in excitement but all I could think is how much fun some jerk would have smashing it. 
We took the pumpkins home and I reluctantly helped carry them to the porch for display. I waited until a little after dark and went out and hid the majority of them behind the pillars of the porch. The next morning I placed them back in their original positions. This went on for over a week until the day before our family carving festival. That morning I noticed a couple were missing, worse yet they were designated carvers. I redistributed the pumpkins and then stopped after work to grab a couple of replacements. That night I entertained the notion of pulling them all inside or tying our dogs up on the porch or setting trip lines and spikes Rambo style. It was clear my paranoia was getting the better of me. I hid them as before and they made it through the night. 
As we carved the pumpkins that next day I couldn’t stop thinking of just how helpless I felt. My kids loved their creations but there was no way I could protect them. To leave them outside meant imminent destruction, bringing them in meant accelerated decomposition. That night I again pulled them all up on the porch but this time I added a few hard to see obstacles, if they were going to smash our pumpkins they were going to get some bruises doing it. I kept this up for almost another week and then the Saturday before Halloween we got home late and I let my guard down. The next morning I awoke in a panic having realized my oversight. I rushed downstairs to check my flock. Three of the four that we had carved had been smashed, this time right where they sat. 
After that I gave up the defense but somehow the remainder survived the rest of the season. In the years since we have continued to buy pumpkins but only to carve and then admire from inside the house. I share this as a cautionary tale for parents that are eagerly rushing out to spend a weeks worth of grocery money on pumpkins. Please brace your children for the possibility that their Jak o’lantern dreams could be smashed by a group of terrible teenage terrorists any given night. And if you happen to be one of those awful adolescents that does such things, I pray that someday your children weep the tears that only a child who has suffered the loss of a pumpkin can weep because I know that’s what got me.


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