The Halloween I was in sixth grade, we had to defend our pumpkins.
That was the year my family hosted an exchange student from France. He was, well. He was the kid who wore a Kamikaze headband to school September 12th, 2001, let’s put it that way. Not exactly the kind who stops fights, or keeps a low profile, no. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when he came home right before Halloween and said “someone” was coming to smash our jack-o-lanterns as a “prank.”
This was also the year we had fifty trillion decorations out. Thing is, when you have an exchange student, you tend to go all-out on the cultural stuff. If normally you stick a candle in a cupcake and sing “Happy Birthday,” with an exchange student around you put on those stupid cone hats and staple crepe paper to the ceiling and play pin the tail on the donkey. You go big, you go traditional.
My family was no different. Even if the French Boy hadn’t antagonized the kids at school—or vice versa, I was eleven and never quite got the whole story—we would’ve still bought a billion of pumpkins, because my mom kept saying “oh, get them all!” at the farmer’s market. This is not a phrase to use at the farmer’s market; they won’t stop you, they’ll only offer to help carry them to the car.
As it was, we ended up with a pumpkin each, plus some: me, my older sister, my older brother, and my mom, and one for my dad, who doesn’t carve. And a couple extra, just because. We spread newspaper on the family room floor, fished out a host of stainless steel bowls, found all the knives, and got to work.
I did my usual: scary face, vampire fangs, angry eyebrows, whatever. So did the rest of the family, my teenage siblings probably rolling their eyes as they went.
But not the French Boy.
He went to town on his pumpkin, turning it into some sort of crazy demon. He carved it up so much, the face started to collapse, so we had to stick toothpicks in it to stiffen the rind.
And when that was done, he carved another.
And then, the next day, he went and bragged about them at school.
From what my sister said and my brother muttered and the French Boy himself finally admitted after intensive questioning, there was a hit scheduled on our house for Halloween night. A group of boys who didn’t like the French Boy were planning to come and smash our pumpkins. Not just his, no; all of them.
I was quite distraught, because I liked my pumpkin, despite its many flaws, and the thought of anyone destroying it for fun absolutely baffled me. It wasn’t their property, why would they do that? Why should my stuff be ruined because the French Boy didn’t get along with some jerks at school? I was all for hiding the pumpkins inside and locking the doors.
My dad, however, suggested we booby trap them.
See, my dad likes hot sauces, and we had, in our cupboard, a bottle of capsicum. As in, the stuff that makes peppers hot. And he said, gosh, they’re going to smash our pumpkins? Let them—it’s better than them egging the house. But why should they have all the fun?
Even I could agree to that. Halloween night, we mixed the capsicum with oil, and carefully drizzled each and every pumpkin, careful to scrub our hands afterwards, lest we burn ourselves. Then we went to bed, merry visions of stupid boys going, “Pumpkin smashing was fun! Let’s go to the bathroom now,” and the screaming that would ensue running through our heads.
I know I’m not the only one who woke up in a good mood, rushing to the window to see the smashed guts of our pumpkins, decorated with the agonized tears of the cowards who dared touch them.
Alas, though, the boys had chickened out. There our pumpkins sat, whole and innocent in their red-hot coating. The French Boy was thoroughly disappointed; I think we all were. Our one chance to self-righteously play a Halloween trick was gone, and the French Boy went out for a smoke at the end of the driveway.
And so, dear readers, in honor of all the pumpkins not smashed (and none of mine have ever been) I leave you with the photo of last year’s pumpkins, in all their poorly-carved glory: