Pumpkin carving McDaniel style (no seeds please)

The mounds of bright orange pumpkins piled outside of the local grocery stores signal that Halloween is just around the corner. Each fall, the one holiday celebrated with equal silliness by young and old alike, finally arrives when the pumpkins are ripe.

"Please Mom," I can remember begging every year, "let Ron (my little brother) and I get our pumpkins," the first week they were delivered to the store. We'd usually have to wait awhile.

"Aw, c'mon mom," I'd plead, "the good ones will all be taken," and we didn't want to be left with the little, shriveled, picked-over ones.

When we finally were permitted to make our purchases, we scrutinized the pumpkin pile with more care than most people give to buying a used car. We'd approach each orange sphere much like a sculptor would look at a chunk of marble or a block of wood: Within each pumpkin hid the face of a jack-o'-lantern and it was our purpose to expose that face.

You'd try to find a symmetrical pumpkin that was about head-size; the giant, award-winning examples only looked good in store windows. And mom would never let us have one that big, anyway.

Our pumpkins would sit on the back porch awaiting that fateful night a few days before Halloween when we were allowed to take a paring knife in hand and carve a face. Each time we'd walk past them we'd try to imagine what they'd look like all aglow in the front window.

On "Pumpkin Carving Night," newspapers would be spread out on the kitchen floor and our surgical instruments (a semi-sharp paring knife and a big spoon) would be laid out. The shape of our jack-o'-lantern's face would be lightly sketched on the pumpkin's skin with a felt pen and then we would be ready to make our initial incision.

The first cut was always around the top, to provide a hole to clean out the insides. It had to be carefully angled so that the top hatch wouldn't fall in and smother the candle. The spoon was used to clean out all of the seeds and yucky glop inside.

One year mom had read somewhere that the seeds should be saved and then baked and lightly salted for a tasty snack treat.

We saved all the seeds and she baked them up, but after we had eaten about three, we decided that either she had the wrong recipe or that your trick-or-treat pickings had to be really slim to continue eating them. I think she was still trying to foist toasted pumpkin seeds on us around the Forth of July that next year.

After we had the pumpkins sufficiently hollowed out, our next step was to begin working on their faces. Here we'd have to decide about whether we wanted our jack-o'-lanterns to be scary and sinister or comical and slightly goofy. The shape if their mouths and smile was crucial.

Finally, our carving complete, a search was begun throughout the house for just the right candle. It had to be thick enough so that it wouldn't burn out in only an hour or two, yet it couldn't be any taller than two or three inches or the pumpkin's top wouldn't fit.

The funny thing is, no matter how scary the face we'd carved, it got even scarier during the next few weeks as the combination of time and Mother Nature did her eerie handiwork.

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