By Pettus Read
It’s almost that time once again to get out the kitchen knife and Grandma’s old dishpan and start carving away at a helpless pumpkin to make it look like something out of an orthodontist’s nightmare. With Halloween approaching, I’m reminded of my youthful days, when jack-o’-lanterns became valuable on that frightful night.
In our little rural community, we all grew pumpkins between the rows of corn, either in the field or in the garden. We grew them to feed our hogs, but some of the choice ones would become fall decorations for the front porch – and a target for jack-o’-lantern thieves as well. Jack-o’-lantern thievery was almost a major sport in my neck of the woods on Halloween night, with trying to catch who stole your pumpkin running a close second.
There were those who sat up with their pumpkins all night, as at a wake with a deceased friend, and they were the ones targeted on the “Big Halloween Night Pumpkin Pilfer.” One year, a group of my friends planned for weeks to steal Miss Baskin’s pumpkin. She was an English teacher from the big city high school and never let anyone steal her pumpkin. It was said she guarded it with a shotgun, and no one was brave enough to steal her holiday gourd. That was, until Ronnie took the challenge.
On Halloween night, he and his friend Bubba developed a plan. Bubba would cause a distraction at the house next door, causing Miss Baskin to look away and giving Ronnie the chance to snatch her pumpkin. He would dress all in black and crawl like a snake to the porch. Meanwhile, his friend would grab Mr. Hayes’ pumpkin off the porch next door. Mr. Hayes always let you get his pumpkin, but he always carried on about it, making a lot of noise, which Ronnie hoped would be enough to allow him to get the Baskin gourd and hit the trail.
Halloween arrived, and around 10 p.m. on a spooky moonlit night the two jack-o’-lantern thieves approached their targets. Bubba headed out to Mr. Hayes’ and Ronnie crawled like a serpent to the edge of Miss Baskin’s porch. Ronnie could see her sitting in her straight-back school chair in the shadows of the corner of the porch with something long in her hands that resembled a weapon of some kind. The two boys had made their plan that when Mr. Hayes started making his racket, Ronnie would make his move.
Just as the moon went behind a cloud, Ronnie heard all kinds of hollering going on over at the Hayes’ house and he saw Miss Baskin get up out of her chair and move to get a better look. Ronnie made his move as well, and grabbed the pumpkin, preparing to make his escape. However, as he turned to run, Miss Baskin stuck a broom handle in his ribs, and at the same time Mr. Hayes threw a large firecracker over where Bubba was running with his pumpkin.
Hearing the firecracker explode, Ronnie assumed Miss Baskin’s broom was a gun and his minutes were numbered, and he fell flat on the ground. For the next few minutes, he admitted to a lot of things right there in front of everyone, including Bubba, which wasn’t a good thing, and asked for a lot of forgiveness until he realized he was not injured but had only been goosed by a schoolteacher’s broom in the ribs.
The night Ronnie got shot by a broom is still a favorite Halloween story in my neck of the woods, but pumpkin thievery is now a thing of the past. Pumpkins have gone plastic, kids don’t care, and English teachers no longer guard pumpkins from teenage boys. What have the times gotten to?