Mothering by Ritual
Somewhere, about mid October, when the rains have licked clean the dust-covered rocks and the maple leaves are the color of condensed sunshine, Mom will bring home the first of several great orange pumpkins and the littlest one will breathlessly insist on carving it the very next day.
After, many false starts, “Where are the pumpkin tools?” and “I know I bought candles” the pumpkin is lifted high onto the counter. The largest, sharpest, Halloweeniest carving knife is pulled slowly from its holder and examined with enormous eyes by the little one who is normally not allowed to touch.
When Mom takes the knife and inserts only the tiniest tip into the top, the little one can barely look. What if she cuts it wrong and the lid insists on falling on the candle? But, somehow the lid severs from the pumpkin without incident. The design has been discussed for a least a day and the littlest one has dithered between a giant spider and a witch but, at last, at his insistence the plans are drawn for a traditional triangle eyed, snaggle-toothed Jack-o-lantern.
But before the first incision, to the little one’s pretended horror and actual delight, the guts and seeds must be scraped out and packed off to the compost heap. He squeals and gasps but hunts through the orange goo for the bone colored ovals as if they were magical talismans entitling him to extra goodies when trick-or-treating.
When the last clinging strand dangles from Mom’s slimy fingers and slips into the bucket, the little one is ready with his serrated knife. Lunging at his target, he has to be persuaded to put the sharp tool down and pick up a blunt pen to draw guidelines on the pumpkin’s plump curves.
At last, together, he and Mom position the blade in exactly the topmost point of a wobbly triangle and, all alone, he struggles to follow the design. With a little nudge occasionally, he connects the slices and carefully pushes out the unwanted pieces. After completing the eyes and nose, he sits back on his haunches to survey his work. He is awestruck—such an evil-eyed Jack-O-Lantern has surely never been carved before. When the last pointy tooth snarls out from the gaping mouth and a candle settles in the bottom, Mom lights the thin wick. Luckily, the ritual has taken the proscribed amount of time and just a faint lingering gray limns the kitchen windows.
Carved and luminous, the pumpkin, supported by chubby little hands and larger freckled ones is paraded across the patio and onto the wrought iron table to await the homecoming of Dad and older brother. When they arrive almost at the same time, both ooh and ahh over the small touches that make this year’s first offering unique. The 5 thin shimmering scars that rake its face get respectful attention but the real kudos come when, motorcycle helmet in hand and black leather jacket stretched across broadening shoulders, older brother shakes back long starlit hair to ask, “You won’t forget I want a pumpkin too, will you, Mom?”