Carving a jack-o-lantern used to require little more than a pumpkin, an oversized kitchen knife, and a tourniquet. It was a simple matter of plunging a 10-inch French knife into the gourd of your choice and creating a triangle-eyed, square-toothed masterpiece of horror. In those days, the trickiest thing about making your jack-o-lantern was deciding on how to light the candle.
Option one: Light candle, then attempt to lower it into the pumpkin without catching your sleeve on fire.
Option two: Put the candle inside the pumpkin first, then attempt to light it without catching your sleeve on fire.
Option three: Accept the inevitable and just light your sleeve on fire, then go find a candle.
After a quick trip to the emergency room for stitches and some light skin grafting, you could return home and set your jack-o-lantern on the porch, where it would remain until gravity and molecular breakdown eventually caused it to collapse in on itself like the birth of a new star — appropriately enough, usually around Christmas time.
But somewhere along the way, things have gotten complicated. The 10-inch French knife — once the pumpkin-carver’s tool of choice — has been replaced by kits that include sophisticated, high-precision instruments that, aside from creating fancy Halloween scenes on your pumpkin, can also be used, if necessary, to perform an emergency triple-bypass. The first time I saw one of these kits was several years ago on Good Morning America, when Martha Stewart was re-creating the flying monkey scene from The Wizard of Oz on the face of an 800-pound pumpkin. After scooping out the insides with a back-hoe (which she had forged herself out of recycled Mason jar lids), Stewart demonstrated how anyone could sculpt their own gourd into a Halloween Mecca by first creating a simple pattern using common household items, such as a dry-erase marker, overhead projector, and $300,000 movie still.
In spite of this newfound knowledge, I kept with tradition because it’s hard to imagine any Halloween without a near-fatal knife wound to reminisce about.
That was until this year, when my children quietly took me aside and told me our pumpkins always look … how did they put it?
Being a father dedicated to his children’s happiness, I of course told them that I appreciated and respected their honesty. After which I told them Halloween had actually been cancelled this year, and that we would be proceeding directly to Arbor Day. That’s assuming that Santa and the Easter Bunny were still missing.
Ha Ha! I didn’t really say that!
Okay — so I did.
The important thing is that my children have learned to laugh HEARTILY whenever their therapist brings up the subject.
As you’ve probably guessed, I gave in and bought a fancy carving kit this year. The first thing I discovered about these kits is that, once spread out, the assortment of tools bares a striking resemblance to an operating tray on The Surgery Channel; lots of shiny things that look sharp but appear to serve no obvious purpose.
Next, there are the instructions, which describe how the tools can be used to create any of the following As Seen on TV! images:
1) Witch riding broom across moon.
2) Black cat with hair standing on end.
3) Bat sitting on tombstone.
4) Martha Stewart.
Included in the kit are four patterns, along with a list of the really cool patterns which — naturally — are sold separately. Knowing how important this was to my children, I was willing to make one final trip to the store in order to obtain the blueprints to our ultimate pumpkin masterpiece:
Martha Stewart hitting bat with tombstone.
The truth is, by the time you read this, we will have already completed our jack-o-lantern. But I do promise to share the details with you.
Just as soon as I put these flames out.
(Ned is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, will be available in December. Write to Ned at email@example.com, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)