When I lived up north and was running from monsters under my bed instead of bingeing on old B horror movies, I still loved getting piles of candy on Halloween. I loved the crisp crackle of leaves beneath my feet and the smell of them everywhere. It was like crisp apples with a hint of dampness on the wind. My favorite part of Halloween, though, was carving pumpkins with my mom. She’d get a small army of them and we’d bake tray after tray of pumpkin seeds while we carved and watched “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” over and over until my little heart was content with the amount of Schulz I had forced upon it.
Since we moved to Florida, I no longer have the same October experience. The heat goes from blistering to tolerable, leaves don’t change, flowers don’t die, and people aren’t as into Halloween. I guess not having seasons makes it hard to notice the eeriness in the air that calls on one to buy unnecessary pumpkin-flavored food and carve a face on a dead squash.
My mom and I still decorated the house for Halloween, wearing t-shirts and shorts, hanging giant fake spiders on the wall, and putting fake cobwebs on the ceiling. One year, we turned the whole lawn into a giant spider’s realm, and tied up dolls and baby shoes into the cobwebs to make it look like the spider was claiming children. We didn’t get a single Trick-Or-Treater that year. A couple times, we bought a pumpkin or two at Publix to carve, but they always rotted so quickly that it seemed sad. Very few children ever came to our house to Trick-Or-Treat. I think it’s simply too hot out to warrant carting around a grumpy 4-year-old dressed as Batman. Halloween wasn’t the same, but we made the most of it that we could. My mom and I would eat the candy ourselves, darken the house, and watch spooky movies by candlelight.
I was relieved, though, when I got to college, to find myself living with two Halloween lovers. I got an apartment with two of my best friends, Sarah and Fiona. They both loved Halloween, and were perfect roommates. Sarah was a studious Pre-Med candidate who always made time to have fun while still getting all her work done, and Fiona was an English major who loved her craft and played video games like no one I’d ever seen. When Halloween rolled around, Sarah pulled out a huge collection of Halloween specials and made us all watch them in the living room with her while we studied. We bought candy and some apple cider that came in a big jug for $2 at the grocery store and sat around drinking it while watching movies I’d never seen like “Spooky Godmother” and “Halloweentown.” Even though I’d never see them, the cider and obsessive DVD-watching made me nostalgic.
Sarah said it before I could, “You know what? We need a pumpkin and we need it now.”
“Why?” Fiona said, “What would we do with it? We don’t have a yard.”
“Carve it and look at it!” Sarah said, and I smiled.
“Yeah, let’s do it!” I said.
“But not one of the ones in a store,” Sarah said, “We need to go to a farm.”
Sarah had grown up in the country in North Florida, in a beautiful old house with lots of land that her family covered in Halloween decorations. She’d always had ready access to pumpkin farms and everything else she could desire for the season.
“Where are we going to find THAT?” Fiona said. We were in Tampa, and we figured there wasn’t a farm for hours.
Sarah wasn’t one to give up when it comes to finding pumpkins. She found a farm not too far away that was a Halloween haven. They had horses and goats roaming around, a huge pumpkin patch, and tons of great fall food and activities.They even advertised a horseback ghost story tour. We got our faces painted, made crafts, pet horses, and picked out the biggest pumpkin we could carry. I remembered being little and going to a similar farm in Pennsylvania that wasn’t too far from home and had homemade apple cider. Back in the dorm, we roasted tray after tray of pumpkin seeds and Sarah carved a big, goofy face onto it. We decided not to keep him in the hall in case he got stolen, but we kept him in our entryway and proudly showed him off to visitors.
We decorated our living room with Styrofoam gravestones, purple string lights, and cobwebs. We bought orange and black paper plates and cups. Our TV blared constantly with Halloween specials, courtesy of Sarah. We were all in the spirit, our enthusiasm growing as Halloween approached, but Jackie wasn’t so excited. We’d gotten him on October 5th. In our comfortable 78.5 degree apartment under our harsh fluorescent lights, Jackie Boy wasn’t going to last through Halloween. He was starting to wrinkle and smell, and his grin turned down at the corners. He even grew mold in a bearded pattern. None of us had the heart to throw him out or even bring it up, but we couldn’t have a party with our apartment reeking of dead pumpkin.
Finally, we all agreed to hold a funeral for him. Jackie was so heavy even in his desiccated state that he required 2 big black Hefty bags to hold his weight without breaking through on the long trek to the dumpster. Wailing B-movie tears, we filed out, staggered to the dumpster, and stood around the bag, heads bowed.
“He was so nice, he always made us smile…..but he was really starting to stink up the place,” Fiona sobbed.
“Oh, Jackie, you died too young! Before we could even show you Halloween!” Sarah keened.
“You’re in Heaven now, Jackie.” I said.
We discussed Jackie’s short life for far too long than a pumpkin deserved, and as we stood around hugging and shaking our heads and wiping away mock tears, a groundskeeper drove by. He stopped, listened for a minute, then said something into his radio and drove off.
“Goodbye, Jackie! Rest in peace!” I said. We embraced.
I swung the bag around my head once before letting it go into the dumpster, where it landed with a loud, thudding splat.
As our funeral procession headed homeward, I heard sirens. We looked back. Two campus police cars pulled up at the dumpster and expelled four cops, who didn’t even bother to close the car doors before climbing into the dumpster.
I realized two things at once. One, we never said Jackie was a pumpkin; and two, a pumpkin stuffed into a Hefty bag is roughly the same heft as a six-month-old baby.
I waited until we were inside to tell the others and laugh. I imagined the cops, opening the Hefty bag to expose putrid pumpkin stink and that lopsided death-grin of his.