(Originally published October 30, 2005 in The News Herald)
As you read this, it's the morning after my daughter's first-ever hosted multi-guest sleepover party.
If all went according to plan, she had youngsters traipsing through the halls in Halloween costumes, eating snacks and birthday cake, half-watching scary movies, staying up to all hours, and dancing to music at a volume that probably was turned down over and over again by weary grownups.
Pray for them.
Bad enough that I can be grouchy on the best of mornings. Worse that my daughter is even more grouchy than me. But that's not really what this is all about.
It's about The Great Pumpkin, and the girl who came to us on a Halloween morning 14 years ago,
and the lessons she teaches.
The Great Pumpkin, like Godot, never arrives. It's the anticipation of his arrival, and our loneliness in the waiting, that matters. Linus sends letters that are never answered; he waits in the patch all night and never sees a sign. He believes in things the rest of us find laughable.
For many years, despite requests from our own "peanuts" gallery, somehow we seldom had a jack-o'- lantern on the doorstep. This year, we got a great pumpkin. We chose it from the patch off State 77 in Lynn Haven and brought it home to lovingly mutilate. It wasn't huge by any means, but it had a good shape and size. And it was ours.
We went to get the pumpkin because our Hallowed Eve princess wanted it, of course, and because her mother's insistence overcame my considerable inertia. And after a few days of having the pumpkin sitting patiently unmolested by the front door, for much the same reason, we took it into the backyard to carve.
As her mother watched, I showed the spooky little girl how to trim off the top and dig out the guts — or brains, if you prefer — to stick to the gourd-as-head analogy. I skimmed seeds out of the fibrous orange mucous and put them into one bowl to be cleaned and roasted. The brains and inner meat went into another, to be made into pumpkin pie or something else Mom might decide to make.
Then daughter and I drew the face, and I helped her cut the holes. She outlined the holes with red paint to increase the daytime scariness. We have since placed the candle inside and shined the light, and it is one formidable jack-o'-lantern.
But there was a moment in between those steps, a moment when I was up to my elbows in pumpkin brains, fingers coated in goo, when I realized my place in all of this. The role I had taken, though active in these final steps, was not the role that had put the gourd on its journey to the front porch.
"This is cool," said the Halloween girl. "Thanks, Mom."