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Back to one real jack-o’-lantern

ON my front stoop is a hefty pumpkin. If you've priced pumpkins recently, you would realize what a bargain I lugged home for $1.99.

Who buys just one pumpkin anymore?

More and more people seem to buy not just one, but many pumpkins. Their yards are lovely, with the bright orange symbols of fall tucked here, there and everywhere among bounteous pots of mums. The truly ambitious add cornstalks and hay bales.

Behind my lonely pumpkin are two lingering pots of petunias and a single hanging fern.  Placed there in the spring, these plants cling to life, the petunias still blooming feebly.  I can't bring myself to pitch them in favor of mums that soon would follow them into the trash pile.  

While I live with more comforts now than I did as a child growing up in the 1950s and 60s, those frugal values make me a grandchild of the Great Depression.

My parents also would buy a single large pumpkin. On the big night my dad would carve it into a traditional jack-o'-lantern, put a candle inside and place it on the front porch. The expression might be fierce, but the welcoming message was clear.

Then my siblings and I, usually in costumes of our own devising, would venture into the neighborhood. We would encounter our playmates and exchange notes.

"Have you been to that house on the corner?" someone might say. "They're giving out nickel candy bars!"

Like a school of fish, we would race off in hopes of arriving before the supply was depleted.

If we were feeling brave, we would approach the historic West Side home known as the Quarrier Mansion. These days it's called Glenwood and is owned by a foundation.

When I was a girl, two elderly sisters still lived there. They were descendants of the man who bought the pre-Civil War era structure a few years after it was built on a site now bordered by Park Avenue, Orchard Street and Garden Street.

Normally we would get only close enough to pluck honeysuckle from vines on the fence around the large property, which included gardens and a two-story outbuilding that originally served as slave quarters.  

On trick or treat night we would dare to enter through the Orchard Street gates, pass the pond with 12-inch goldfish and proceed along the stone path to the grand front entrance.

The sweet elderly sisters would oblige us with candy.  It was a relief but also a bit disappointing not to be greeted by someone like Lurch from the Addams Family.

When we arrived home with costumes in disarray and bags bulging, we would plop down on the floor and sort our collections. We would engage in some trading and eat way more than we should. On that one night, our mother wouldn't interfere.

Trick or treat was a glorious ritual of childhood that I wanted to pass along to my own youngsters.

I followed my parents' practices pretty much to the letter. That meant one pumpkin, carved on the big night and placed on the porch as a welcoming beacon.

Then the kids grew up. As Halloween approached, I still would buy that pumpkin, but my husband and I wouldn't get around to carving it. It would sit there on the porch in pristine but boring beauty, with only the porch light to signal we were open for business.

I should have at least cut it up, scraped the innards and baked it for use in pies, but that never happened either. So a couple of years ago I decided to stop wasting even one pumpkin.

I bought an artificial one. Inside a cutaway section were some fake webs and spiders and a small battery-powered light. I told myself it would last for years.

It stacked up to a real jack-o'-lantern about as well as a discount store costume does to one pulled together with imagination at home.

Recently I was shopping for groceries when I came across that $1.99 real pumpkin and couldn't resist.  

Now I'm promising myself that the children who approach my house on trick or treat night will see a carved jack-o'-lantern lit from within by a candle.

And they will find no Halloween Scrooge.

Candy prices have increased by about tenfold since I was a kid, but for an expenditure of 20 bucks or so my house could be the one with the big bars.

That should play as well as a yard full of pumpkins.

  Friend recently retired as editor and publisher of the Daily Mail. Tweet to her @nanyafriend.


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