I wanted to share something I wrote 10 years ago for my daughter.
It’s funny how traditions start in a family. Some just happen because they become routine but others…well, others start spontaneously or from a lesson learned the hard way. Our family’s Christmas pumpkins started long ago. Not because we wanted to carve them on Christmas, it was because that’s when we needed to carve them.
Back in 1980, after just eight years of marriage and as our little girl was nearing her fifth birthday, we bought a business. It was a combination sausage shop and meat processing plant. We borrowed a huge sum of money from my husband’s parents, so right away, the burden of using their hard won savings was a heavy weight on my husband’s shoulders. But, we were proud and energetic, and soon after signing all the papers, the new business didn’t just consume our time and energy. It consumed our souls.
Our little daughter was as exuberant about our business as we were. As an only child she was used to hanging-out around grown-ups. And very shortly she could wheel and deal with the customers, answer the phones and even run the cash register. Our first week in business she turned five years old. We were not able to have her usual Halloween themed party but we did buy pumpkins to carve. The two of us placed them in the store so we could see them. We were already spending a lot of time there.
The nights before Halloween we were busy in our new business, selling cheese and sausage, brats and cider, for other people’s parties. We carried our sleeping child home from work in the back seat of the car, without ever having gone trick or treating herself.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said, “I’m having fun here.”
She made her own costume from paper bags with the shop scissors and lot’s of tape, and waited on customers until her eyes drooped. She was so cute and downright charming.
But we didn’t carve the pumpkins.
In the weeks after Halloween, came harvest time. That’s the time of year when farmers began processing more and more animals. It was even more time for our daughter to find herself in the store office. She sat and colored on old receipts and answered the phones, very politely assuring customers, she did indeed know a pork chop from a pork steak, and that you can have both but one can NOT be made into the other.
The pumpkins got moved from the front door of the store to the top of the meat case. We just couldn’t carve them that week.
Thanksgiving week arrived but all the extra time we had was spent checking-in deer to be processed and so that’s what we did all the other days of the hunting season too. The pumpkins sat proudly on top of the meat counter where they got patted each day to make sure rot had not set in. By that time, the pumpkins had names and personalities. They were old friends. We had plotted their faces and knew them by heart. But no, there wasn’t time to carve them yet.
“Maybe next week on Momma’s birthday,” I promised.
But that day was like the rest and there was no time. So day after day with the coming of the snowy weather and the promise of Christmas right around the corner, my little girl asked, “Now Momma? Can we carve the pumpkins now?”
Well being a busy mom and shopkeeper, I had to set priorities and the shop came first. People were counting on us. My husband’s family was counting on us. We didn’t carve the pumpkins.
At times we did make it home early, but those nights the phone never stopped ringing. Customers called to order their fresh turkey or Christmas goose, sometimes they even asked for a recipe or information on how to carve the bird at the table. By then the pumpkins had long since ceased being part of the store decor. They were home now in the place of honor lined up on the kitchen table. Our little girl had weeks before covered the table with newspaper, getting ready for the pumpkin carving. We had hardly noticed, since we rarely ate together and certainly not at the kitchen table.
Finally, on Christmas morning after opening Santa’s presents, I asked my sweet child, “What do you want to do today?”
She so simply said, “Carve the pumpkins!”
So we went to check them and sure enough, they were sound and solid. We carved and carved, each and every one of them. We carved stars and candy canes and the baby Jesus right into the orange flesh. We gooshed around in the pumpkin seeds and threw them out into the snow for the birds. We lit the candles inside and put them in the windows, pleased and proud of our swell Christmas pumpkins.
Now you would think the lesson would have been learned that first year. But no, it took five years, then a few more. By then my sweet daughter asked, “How come no one else carves Christmas pumpkins Mom?” I told her because long ago her father and I learned an important lesson from the pumpkins and the rest of the world hadn’t caught up yet.
It took losing everything but ourselves to finally get the point. It was just God’s way of getting our attention. He gave us a beautiful child, our own “Pumpkin Pie” who so good and true, loved us despite our gross mistakes. Every Fall after I select just the right pumpkins, I rededicate myself to being her mother no matter how old she is, and I celebrate the reharvesting of our souls, by waiting and carving the Christmas pumpkins.
About the stained glass:
Pumpkin and Beets window, ca. 1899–1900
Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933)
Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company
Leaded Favrile glass; 44 7/8 x 56 ¼ in. (114 x 142.9 cm)
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park, Florida