How to Make a Jack-o-Lantern
by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1996. All rights reserved.

First, you start with a pumpkin seed, but not just any pumpkin. Seek out seeds of a Halloween or Jack-o'-Lantern or Spookie variety. You want a pumpkin that matures to the size and shape of your own head.
Sow your seed just before the last frost in mounds of soil and manure. And as you plant, reflect on how deeply the roots of pumpkins sink into history. Native to the Americas, pumpkins fed Indian tribes before Columbus landed and gave white settlers in frontier cabins sustenance through cold, dark winters.

Grow pumpkin vines in full sun with plenty of water. When they sprout small pumpkins, pinch off the tips of the vines. When the pumpkins are six inches across, pick all but one pumpkin per vine.

Turn your pumpkins gently in their final weeks of growth so they don't grow flat on one side. If one becomes your favorite, reflecting in its ribbed surface something inside your soul, scratch your name or initials in its skin.

Pick pumpkins after fall frosts have wilted the vines. Find the one you personalized, or select another you find most interesting and cut it from the vine with a knife, leaving at least a three-inch stem. Wipe its surface clean with a damp towel.
The first Jack-o'-Lanterns were large turnips grown in Ireland long before pumpkins crossed the Atlantic and,  according to folklore, Jack was a sinful blacksmith who had played one too many practical jokes. Neither Heaven nor Hell would have him and Jack was doomed to walk in darkness until Judgment Day.
Just before he was thrown out of Hell, Jack was eating a turnip. Thinking quickly, he snatched up some of Hell's burning embers and put them in the hollowed out turnip to light his way through the darkness.
Cut an opening around the stem wide enough for your hand. Pull on the stem to remove the lid and then scoop out the seeds. Washed and dried, pumpkin seeds can be baked at low heat on a lightly oiled cookie sheet for a half hour. With a little salt, they make a pleasant snack.

Next, draw a face on your pumpkin. Let your imagination loose. Give free rein to any feelings or emotions. The best pumpkin faces express something unspeakable.

With a sharp knive, carve out the features. Notice how easily the blade moves through the pumpkin shell and how quickly the face emerges. What was once plant is now part animal; the pumpkin becomes a Jack-o'-Lantern.
Place a cat food or tuna can inside the pumpkin for a candle holder. Light the candle and close the lid. Turn off the TV and stereo. Turn out the lights. Watch and listen.
In the dark you may feel the onset of winter and its long nights. In the glow of the candlelight you may face demons. And in the silence, if you listen carefully, you may hear the shuffle of Jack's footsteps -- and ours -- crossing the darkness.

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