How to Carve a Pumpkin, the Old-School Way

My father was a quiet man, but he had firm convictions about the right way to do many things (see Father’s Day Special II.)  My view of pumpkin carving for Halloween is heavily influenced by his.

Every year just before Halloween we would go looking for a pumpkin.  Daddy felt that the proper shape for carving was the classic round, not one that was taller than it was wide.  It should be a good healthy orange, not pale.  The reddish-orange ones you sometimes see nowadays were not available back then in Tennessee.  We usually chose ours from a farm stand along 41-A, someone’s local produce.

The first step in pumpkin-carving was to spread a great deal of newspaper on the dining room table, covering the vinyl tablecloth so even it would not get dirty or be stained.  If the weather was warm sometimes we did this outside.  Step two:  Daddy carved a circle around the stem about six inches in diameter and pulled out this plug of pumpkin meat.  He cleaned off the bottom of this.  Then he scraped out the seeds and as much of the pumpkin meat as he could from the inside.

The next step was crucial, and this is where his opinions come in.  Daddy took a pencil and drew the face he wanted to cut onto the pumpkin shell, following these rules:   1) Halloween pumpkins should have triangular eyes.  2) They should have noses, either a triangle pointing in the opposite direction from the eyes, or two nostrils (some artistry permitted here.) 3) Their mouths should have teeth, either square and snaggled or pointed.  4) They should have ear holes.

So he carved according to these rules.  The pumpkin was lit by a stub on candle.  We would wait until dark, go outside and light the pumpkin, and stand in the dark admiring its eerie beauty.  Every year I was entranced with the result–old-school, simple, classic, and vaguely threatening.

This year I will have company for Halloween, and we will go to the Blaze in Croton to see thousands of carved jack o’lanterns, very fancy indeed.  But maybe I’ll carve an old-time one, in memory of Daddy.

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