Like so many North American kids I loved carving pumpkins before Halloween.
Pumpkin carving took on a whole different meaning in my family though. Amongst my cousins you only need to mention pumpkin and there will be laughter and knowing. Pumpkin has become the stuff of legend for our clan. As children we would wait, patiently carving our pumpkins, for my uncle to make the first move. It had to be my uncle who would do it. Children learn early on about those who are fun and those who enforce the rules. They also learn early on that adults get to decide when the rules can be broken. My family was no different. My uncle was the fun one, the rule breaker. It had to be him who would do it. And so I, and my sister and cousins would wait and watch and know that it was coming. It would be sudden, it would happen when everyone had relaxed and our energy had shifted from anticipation to the artistry of each pumpkin – he was a master of timing. In one move he would mash a handful of pumpkin guts into the least suspecting carver’s face. It was then that everyone let the pumpkin fly. Handfuls of guts and seeds would fly across the room to hit a moving target. Slimy handfuls of the goop would be dropped down shirt collars and mashed into hair. No one was off limits and everyone, even the rule following adults, played.
This happened year after year with different people and at different houses. There was a moratorium on the fun after my mother had to re-wallpaper the entire main floor after one pumpkin fight. But the pumpkin fights resurfaced. They became more calculated and shorter as we got older. My mother started lining the walls with plastic before the carving began. This tamed the wildness a bit. The plastic signaled the inevitability of the pumpkin fight which in some ways weakened the anticipation. But even this year, when I sat down with my children to carve pumpkins I knew that I would wash my daughters’ face with pumpkin guts. I laughed with my girls when they looked in the mirror at their orange stained faces. It was my husband, not me, who signalled the end of the fun with a quiet but clear, ‘That’s enough, now’. And he gave me the look that is normally reserved for the children. The look that says, ‘you’ve crossed the line far enough – don’t push it.’
I have a special relationship with pumpkin guts, one that goes beyond the yearly tradition of hollowing and carving. I know the itch that pumpkin causes as it dries on my face. I have watched guts and seeds slide out of my hair and down the drain. I am lucky to know that a handful of pumpkin on a light coloured wall will stain and cannot be scrubbed out. I have the secret pleasure of the taste of raw pumpkin and the smell of it up my nose. I understand how much children need the rules to be broken on occasion. I know how pumpkin can bind hair or family together into a mat that can’t be easily untangled.