No pumpkin-carving experience is complete without a near-fatal knife wound

image 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 The 10-inch French knife — once the pumpkin-carver’s tool of choice — has been replaced by kits that include sophisticated, high-precision instruments that, aside from creating fancy Halloween scenes on your pumpkin, can also be used, if necessary,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?

Oh yeah.

Really stupid.

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, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

47 thoughts on “No pumpkin-carving experience is complete without a near-fatal knife wound”

  1. Leave it to Martha Stewart to complicate Halloween. If someone did an MRI of her brain, I’d bet all they’d see is gears and pulleys. I always heard she was the one who came up with the idea of giving Charley Brown rocks instead of candy because she saw him take one bite of her red bean Halloween cupcakes and toss it back over her white picket fence.

    1. Hahaha! One of my favorite memes is a still photo of her with Snoop Dog on the show, and at the bottom is reads: Only one of these people is a convicted felon.

      She scares me, and not just at Halloween.

      1. I turned on the radio in the car last week and instantly recognized her voice on NPR and even though it took less than three seconds to switch stations, my whole body was covered in sweat.

  2. Ah, the good old days of stitches and light skin grafting. I agree with John…Martha Stewart complicates everything, especially for us women out here just trying to get thru life doing the least amount of domestic-y things possible while still being considered a female.

    1. Absolutely.
      I think Martha Stewart is actually a fem-bot, without much of the “fem” part. She forgets that not everyone has unlimited funds and time. And minions. Don’t forget her minions…

  3. Luckily I don’t know who Martha Stewart is … and I don’t intend to Google her (although I doubt if she would let me).

    Luckily I am now at an age and appearance where the local kids give me a wide berth all the year round not just at Halloween.

    Do you think a ‘Ba, Humbug!’ could be used at this time of year as well as Christmas?

  4. Ugh, my kids saw some contest on the food network where these really talented people were carving masterpieces out of giant pumpkins using electric tools and their own sorts of kits. Bah to that!

    1. Damn that Food Network! And talented people! And giant pumpkins!

      However, you’ve got me thinking about what I could carve from an 800-lb pumpkin using extrication tools…

      Damn you Don!

  5. Oh Ned….how I do love your sense of humor. I had to re-read the bit about Martha and the back-hoe a few times because I was laughing too hard to get to the end. I used to do those pumpkins for my step-kids years ago. The time invested was pretty worth it – we had the coolest pumpkins in town. (and I only severed one vein, but the arterial spray made the pumpkin look that much spookier!!)

    1. Lol! Yeah, there’s nothing like the soft spray of arterial hemorrhaging to add that special touch that distinguishes a good pumpkin from a great pumpkin and a trip to the ER.

  6. Ned, I think it is really bold of you to write a blog about she who must not be paroled and I must compliment you on your ability to type with a recently incinerated arm. Can the aluminum foil used to line the inside of the pumpkin ( to increase reflectivity and decrease baking time of the arm ) also be used to wrap the arm during the delicate lighting operation ? Or should I go right to the 21 million BTU flame thrower and blast on through Jack O Lantern’s maw ? Thanks ever so much.

    1. Due to the complexity of your question, I contacted She Who Must Not Be Paroled for advice. However, we never made it past “how to make aluminum foil from scratch.” So, my suggestion would be to light your pumpkin with last year’s Christmas tree if, like mine, it is still laying in the backyard. If not, a fire-proof suit made of aluminum foil is very effective, as any Thanksgiving turkey will tell you.

  7. “collapse in on itself like the birth of a new star — appropriately enough, usually around Christmas time.” Genius. 2 holiday decorations for the price of one. Now, how to get the neighborhood kids not to toss it prematurely into the street… BTW, why is neighborhood spelled like that?

    1. I have found an effective way to keep nayberhood kids from prematurely tossing my pumpkin is by prematurely tossing them out of my yard. Especially any of them who show up to date one of my daughters. After that, words gets around. Problem solved.

  8. Keene, New Hampshire just had it’s Keene Pumpkin Festival and made the Guinness Book of World Records for the most lit jack-o-lanterns … 30,581.

    The number of emergency calls have not yet been calculated …. um, I mean … reported. That may be another new Guinness Book of World Record.

    I feel faint ….

  9. I’m just glad you still out there answering comments. This is not easy to do, with all the stab wounds from the pumpkin carving, and with sleeves on fire.

  10. Once I discovered that the tool kits didn’t make me into Martha Stewart, I put them in a drawer for awhile (several years) before discovering that you can cut other veggies into cool patterns (and still get the thrill of needing the butterfly bandage).

  11. My mom once bought me a Martha Stewart cookie book because she’d found it for $1 at K-Mart. Apparently someone had gone through and defaced Martha on all the covers. I wonder if they had just watched that Halloween segment.

    Thanks for the starting my day with a laugh!

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