My mother has pumpkins.
I know, so what. It’s autumn, everyone has pumpkins.
Not my mother.
Okay, so it’s not a first. There was that time back in sixth grade when my parents took us on a drive upstate (upstate New York, that is) to the cider mill and let my sisters and I each pick out a pumpkin to bring in to school to help decorate our classrooms. But that was a rare exception. And a pumpkin at home? Not likely. Pumpkins were a big waste of money. No one in our house was going to take time to make a pumpkin pie and, well, after a few weeks, a pumpkin just rots and has to be thrown away.
Several years ago, my sister visited my parents from out of town. She had not been to their home in quite a while. Driving into their street at night, she had some trouble remembering which house was theirs. Now, my parents live out in the country where their neighbors raise horses and cattle and goats and such. There are few lights to cut into the dark of night. I have often sat with my parents on folding chairs in their driveway to watch the star show. Out there, the stars twinkle in all their majesty and the constellations stand out just like in a book and you can’t help but think about God. And when the Perseid meteor shower is going on, you can ooh and aah at the shooting stars just like at a pyrotechnic display on the Fourth of July.
For a moment, my sister thought she had found the right house. But she knew she must be mistaken, for right next to the doorstep sat a large pumpkin. And everyone knows my parents don’t do pumpkins.
But it was their house.
So my parents, nearly eighty years old and long retired, continue to surprise us.
Now my mother calls and starts out, as always, by berating me for not calling for nearly two weeks. “Did you forget you have a mother and a father?” she asks.
She tells me about their visits to Kaiser and the tests they need to have and the pills they’re taking. She tells me how the plans for the big family gathering on Thanksgiving are coming along.
Then she tells me she has pumpkins.
Okaaayyy. I’m not sure where this conversation is going.
It turns out she’s not sure what one can actually do with pumpkins. She will be buying a pumpkin pie, so that’s off the list. She is leaving it to my sisters and me to figure out what to do with the darned things.
Well, I offered, for starters you can remove the seeds, place them on a baking sheet with a little salt and toast them in the oven. As for the flesh they call pulp, well, the pumpkin is a gourd, a type of squash. If you cut it into chunks, you can use it in a stew, or if it’s more mushy, you can bake it in a casserole.
“Maybe you can make it into French fries?” Mom asks. Sure, I say, why not. If you can have sweet potato fries and zucchini fries, I don’t see why we can’t invent pumpkin fries. As a vegetarian, I’m game. Bring on the olive oil.
It will also be Hanukkah, so perhaps we can invent pumpkin latkes as well.
So I look forward to taking a sharp knife and cutting a circle near the tops of those orange beauties. Then I’ll flip their lids and throw the stem in the trash. I’ll have plenty of assistance from my niece and nephews. Or if not assistance, at least they’ll be there to laugh at my amateur efforts. Either way, we’ll surely figure out something to do with all that pulp. I wouldn’t want my parents to think their purchase was wasted.
I have no doubt that pumpkins, along with maize, were among the staple foods of the Native Americans among whom the Pilgrims settled in the seventeenth century. As for me, I believe that God created pumpkins for one reason only: So that we can remove their tops, cut a goofy grin into their exteriors and stick a glowing candle inside to light the early winter nights and warm the hearts of children and adults alike.
Mr. Jack O. Lantern, at your service.