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

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 The 10-inch French knife — once the pumpkin-carver’s tool of choice — has been replaced by kits that include sophisticated, high-precision instruments that, aside from creating fancy Halloween scenes on your pumpkin, can also be used, if necessary,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

I didn’t really say that! Ha! Ha!

Okay — so I did.

The important thing is that my children have learned to laugh HEARTILY whenever their therapist brings the subject up.

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 Grey’s Anatomy: 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.

Of course, by the time you read this, we will have already completed this year’s jack-o-lantern. I promise to share the details with you.

Just as soon as I put these flames out.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)

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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...

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

  1. When they invent a pumpkin kit that kills the smell of said pumpkin’s innards then I may invest in one. Either that, or Monsanto needs to get on top of developing pre-spiced pumpkins.

  2. It’s all fun and games until Martha gets hit with a bat.

    I planted an entire pumpkin patch this year and produced 3 measly pumpkins. Two of the three were then eaten by squash bugs after harvesting. The third remains on my doorstep…uncarven and untouched.
    I’m thinking about putting a sign by it that says, “Pumpkin carved by Congress”
    Though…the poor little thing wouldn’t have made it to my doorstep if Congress was in charge 😉

  3. Ah, another person enamoured with the days of old…..I miss them…their ease, their simplicity….it didn’t matter then if you had a “stupid”-looking pumpkin…everyone else did too.

  4. LOL!!! Fortunately, I’m a grandma so the kids have moved out. However, my hair is only now growing back from the fire. But now it came in white!! 😉 Hey, did you know that you can design Tinkerbell on your pumpkin now. All it takes is a nail gun! Have fun! 😉

  5. it sounds like we are at the same skill level in this arena. tomorrow i’ll be making a giant pumpkin with my class indwell be painting. glittering and feathering their thing> only cutting involved will be hacking out a hole on the top to dig out the slime.

    1. By the time you read this, you will probably have been slimed by pumpkin mucus. Possibly even glittered and feathered. I just want you to know, as a parent, we appreciate your sacrifice… so please come back in spite of whatever those kindergarteners might’ve done to you.

      1. I’m a frustrating artist, so I enjoy pumpkins as a canvas. That said, there have been years when I wasn’t prepared and cut a faces in them as the sun set!!!!

  6. I’ve been trying to get the kid to come with me to a local pumpkin patch to pick out some pumpkins, but he keeps blowing me off. One year we blew it off until Halloween came and went. But this year I really want the pumpkin seeds, so come hell or high water, I’m getting some pumpkins! Oh, and I usually light the candle with one of those long lighters, through the mouth. So yes, I carve a big mouth.

    1. Ahhhhh, pumpkin seeds. The gourd’s only redeeming quality aside from pie. And as something to throw at the raccoons. Thanks for the tip on lighting the jack-o-lantern, by the way. I’ll give that a shot and probably use my mouth as a stencil to make sure the opening is big enough.

      As for your son, no mucus scooping = no seeds. Assuming he cares…

      1. He doesn’t care. In fact, he gives me the pleasure of scooping mucus and then he does the face on his pumpkin. He can’t tolerate that first part, and it doesn’t bug me. BTW, just came from a pumpkin patch. $3 per pumpkin- just leave the money in the box.

        1. That sounds like the best pumpkin patch ever 😉

          And I am familiar with pumpkin-mucus aversion. Our oldest son, 15, who has Aspergers, is very particular about textures — and mucus isn’t one of those he will get anywhere near. Heck, I wouldn’t either if I didn’t have to!

  7. such a cool post…
    * * *
    @”a 10-inch French knife…” – Laguiole or Opinel?… 🙂 I love pumpkins and their seeds, but I’ve never craved any… 🙂 my very best and cheers! Mélanie

  8. I used to get very creative when I had step-children. It was one of my favorite times of year. I do miss the 8-piece open heart surgery set. At least I have some great pictures of pumpkins-gone-by. (and no third degree burn scars as a reminder!!)

    1. I heard Martha Stewart performed an emergency tonsillectomy with her 8-piece set once, but her staff members all sign a confidentiality agreement —so no one is talking. Or maybe they’ve all had tonsillectomies and literally can’t talk.

      It’s great you still have the photos, Susan. Definitely better than if you’d kept the originals 😉

  9. I went to a suburban pumpkin-carving party last Saturday. What an ordeal! Looking at all the elaborately-carved masterpieces next to my geometric shape cut-outs gave me a new benchmark for my utter lack of creativity. We had two pumpkins–one for each daughter. I opened the second pumpkin and it was rotten inside. A grey-ish gelatinous mush whose stench almost knocked me flat on my ass.

    1. Like everything, eventually that style of geometric carving will make a comeback and you will be at the forefront. Hey, even bell-bottom pants had a comeback.

No one is watching, I swear...

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