The Magic Pumpkin
I was a loner when it came to holidays as a child.
Let me make this clear: I was a loner, not lonely. I liked to bring in each holiday with a set of annual rituals that made the special day even more special in my eyes. To me it seemed as if regular people never took holidays as serious as I did. These days were filled with magic if you just let yourself breathe their spirit in. Most folks, it seemed, never appeared to do that.
At least that was the way it was in my home. My family was not big on celebrating much of anything–that is unless there was a house full of people to watch you celebrate it, and be impressed by how fancy or “mod” in the way you were doing it. My mother and father were all about impressing people with fancy parties with lots of grown up guests where we kids (my two brothers and yours truly) had to stay in our rooms or in the playroom with a babysitter or nanny.
Yep, a nanny. The folks had money. And there is a difference between a babysitter and a nanny. The nanny lives in the house and is the babysitter full time (except for her time off), and the babysitter is hired for when the nanny is off for the evening of the day. A tough rich kid life, I know.
My favorite grown-up parties that my parents would hold were the ones where they would ship us boys off to stay with Gran’ma and Gran’pa. But that didn’t happen too often. When it did, however, and it happened on the weekend, Gran’ma would light candles and we would observe Shabbat. We would have special food and treats and have fun on Saturday, and it would spill over onto Sunday when later in the afternoon our parents would come and pick us up and bring us home. Those were awesome weekends, especially since my grandmother was an excellent cook.
Halloween never seemed to be on my parents’ radar. It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that we were Jewish. A lot of Jewish folks don’t do Halloween, and a lot of Jewish people do. My folks were quite secular. They even celebrated Christmas and set up a Christmas tree in addition to Chanukah (and as they years went by sometimes forgot totally about Chanukah and eventually gave up on giving us gifts on Christmas too). It was all about the decorations and the parties for them. People loved their Christmas holiday parties and New Years Eve bashes, so this is what they began to concentrate their efforts on.
Therefore, if I was going to have any fun of my own when holidays came around, I had to come up with my own customs and traditions. This was especially true for Halloween. Being that it was just 4 days away, I was already in the spirit of things. So this meant I was ready to begin my celebrating in my own special way.
Two and a half blocks from my home and from Oak Park was a small, family-owned store named Oscar’s. It had been there since my mother was a little girl. The outside of the building was a white stucco, and upon these walls were advertisements painted for Frostie root beer and Butterkrust bread. While the inside was usually somewhat dark, with one or two dim fluorescent bulbs flickering overhead as the only light for the two rows of few groceries available in the cramped space of the store with wooden floors, there was a generous candy section as well as a penny candy counter behind class that Oscar himself (now quite an old gentleman) would measure out for you and toss into paper bags for you to take home. One could get quite a mouthful of candy for just a quarter in my childhood days.
As usual, since Halloween was upon us, Oscar had pumpkins for sale outside of the front door to his store as did each year every late October. They sat in a modest pile in a wooden bin on four legs, green paint peeling from neglect, with the words “Drink Coca-Cola” fading and chipped away on the front of it.
I had saved allowance money over the weeks from the summer and from among the lunches I had skipped at school to buy a pumpkin for this Halloween. We didn’t hang up Halloween decorations at home, even though I would beg my parents to do this. It wasn’t that we couldn’t afford to, goodness no. In fact, I didn’t know what the reason behind their not giving in to my yearly request was. They always bought me a Halloween costume. They sent me and my brothers trick-or-treating under the careful eye of Aunt Tilda every year (except for that one where she kept insisting she wanted to do so as she rode about upon one of her pet ostriches that she got from an old beau when she lived in South Africa–a wild story for another time).
And to be honest, by the time I was in the second grade I had never seen or managed to carve a genuine jack-o’lantern. So I was determined to make this a new and lasting annual tradition for myself. I was going to pick the best pumpkin Oscar had in his pumpkin bin, purchase it, bring it home, hide it, carve it during the day on Halloween, and then carry it around with me on Halloween night with a candle in it as I went door-to-door for treats and finally to the Halloween gala at the Oak Park community center–that is, if there wasn’t any trouble about from Sally Silver and the Baxters at that party.
Anyway, I was quite proud of myself as I came down the street with my new purchase of what I felt was the perfect Halloween pumpkin. It was just the right shape, just the right shade of orange, and it even had a green and curled stem on top. This would be perfect to carve up. Everything seemed right in the world for a change as the autumn breeze blew fall-colored leaves down the sidewalk at my feet.
Yet as I neared my house I figured it would not be a very smart thing to just walk straight in with my new Halloween tradition. My two older brothers were often always on the point of finding a reason to tease, trick, and pick on me. And there was no telling how my parents would react. “No, no!” one of them would probably say. “You’ll cut off one of your fingers if you try to carve that thing.” And before you know it, they’ll be tossing it into the garbage.
So I decided to sneak around my house the long way, go into the backyard, sneak about the bushes, and see if I could get to Robbie’s treehouse and find a hiding place for it in there. I would let Robbie know I had dropped off my pumpkin there the first chance I got.
Upon reaching the bottom of the tree, I heard voices coming up from up above.
“It isn’t fair,” I heard Barbara Jeane say. “We didn’t do anything, and you guys treated us like we were bad guys!”
“Yeah!” Ted Joel and Joe Peso chimed in.
Veronica sighed. “Uggh! How many times are we gonna have to say we’re sorry?”
“We didn’t know who we could trust,” said Robbie next.
I called up after hearing my buddy’s voice. “Are all you guys up there?”
The bottom hatch popped open and Sammy’s face appeared with a smile. “Hi, Carl!” he said. Then his eyes got wide. “Look guys! Carl’s got a Halloween pumpkin!”
Soon the faces of everyone in the Second Grade Safety Patrol was glaring down at me: Robbie, Veronica, (of course Sammy) Joe, Ted, and Barbara Jeane Meadow.
“Nice pumpkin, Carl,” said Ted Joel, “but I think we’re in the middle of an argument.”
“What about?” I asked.
“Being accused of being a double-agent snitch for Sally Silver and the Baxter twins,” answered Barbara Jeane, “that’s what!”
“I dunno,” Joe said. “I probably would have done the very same thing if I was in their shoes.”
Barbara Jeane and Ted gave Joe a cold glare.
“What?” he asked in reply. “My mom says I always have a guilty look on my face all the time.”
“What you doing with the pumpkin, Carl?” asked Robbie.
“I need to hide it here. I can’t keep it at home. I want to carve it for Halloween night. Can I keep it in your treehouse?”
Robbie signaled for me to come up.
The debating continued. Ted, Barbara Jeane, Joe (just a wee bit) were upset that they had been left out of the group and accused of assisting the spoiled brat Sally Silver. Robbie, Veronica, and Sammy were doing their best to appease them. I felt like I had to do something to stop the fighting. After all, it had all started with me as the subject of the so-called snitch and the bully they were working for, Sally Silver.
“Everybody stop arguing!” I shouted.
The treehouse went silent.
“You have good lungs,” Ted Joel commented on my volume.
“Thank you,” I replied. “Now listen. The reason for all this has to do with me. I am the one being teased. Sure, Sally Silver and the Baxter twins have now also started picking on some of you too, but this all began because Robbie and the rest of you started to stand up for me. I don’t want you to lose your friendships over me.”
I set the pumpkin in the middle of the treehouse floor.
“This is our friendship pumpkin,” I said. “We’ve been friends a long time. I trust all of you. I know none of you are trying to hurt me. Joe, Barbara Jeane, Ted, I trust you. You guys are not snitches. Sammy, Veronica, Robbie, you have to trust them too. So all of us are going to forget about the past and work together and swear on this pumpkin to stay friends. We’re gonna let the magic of the Halloween keep us together.”
I put my hand on the pumpkin. “What do you guys say? Are you in?”
For a moment there was nothing but strange looks and quiet.
“C’mon,” I repeated myself. “Are you in?”
Slowly one by one everyone else got down on their knees like myself and placed a hand on the pumpkin.
“I believe this pumpkin is magic,” I said.
They all repeated after me: “I believe this pumpkin is magic.”
“I believe this pumpkin is magic,” I said louder.
“I believe this pumpkin is magic,” they repeated louder.
“I believe this pumpkin is magic!”
And they shouted: “I believe this pumpkin is magic!”
“There,” I said. “It’s done. We can’t go back. We’re friends forever.”
There was a new feeling in the room. There were smiles. There was instant trust.
I looked up at Robbie and nodded. “Now, Robbie,” I said. “Tell them about the plan.”
“There’s a plan?” asked Barbara Jeane.
Robbie nodded. “Yes. Thanks to Carl’s aunt Tilda. We have an idea on how to smoke out the snitch and get back at Sally Silver.”
“And more than that,” I added. “I think I already know who the snitch is.”
Robbie looked back at me with surprise. “You do?”