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Sixty-Something: Hamptons Pumpkins Time

T.J. Clemente

Remember the joy of carving the top off on that angle to make a lid from the stem? (Photo Courtesy of the Author)

What I love about the Hamptons this time of year is seeing so many pumpkins lining the farm stands off most of the major roads. You actually watch them grow if you transverse the Hamptons regularly past the wide-open fields where the farm stands grow them. Many are a go pick your pumpkins places that kids adore.

When you see pumpkins, or hear the word pumpkins you have to think back to Halloween as a child. I still remember trick or treating back in Pelham, N.Y. as a child. I remember the fun of wearing those cheap rayon costumes and a mask and filling pillowcases of candy. We had our favorite houses and then there were the ones that were scary. What I also remember about Halloween were the amazing carved pumpkins at the homes, some also painted but each individually carved with a distinct personality. On Halloween night most would have a candle inside flickering light through the carved out mouth and nose and eyes. On a stoop or next to a door they could be spooky.

To this day, even as a sixty-something, I enjoy going to the farm stands to pick out a few pumpkins to carve out. I usually buy one elongated one that is begging to be made a "Jack-O-Lantern." Some farm stands have the pumpkins piled in zones by the size and price, while others sell them by the pound, where you have to haul them into the place to be weighed. If you pick a huge one, this becomes an ordeal.

I still remember it was my mom who taught me how to carve a pumpkin. I also remember some of the disasters of those early efforts. I created crooked mouths during those feeble attempts at making that odd tooth or three along with eyes that just didn't quite line up. Even when I drew it up in advance, something would go wrong in the carving, a chore I believe I did as far back as 4-years-old.

To this day, I still admire folks who literally carve pumpkins as if Michelangelo did them. With faces that seem almost real and detail I never could acquire.

Remember the joy of carving the top off on that angle to make a lid from the stem? Who can't remember that first hand full of gooey pumpkin inners and seeds that had to be cleaned out before the carving? I don't believe ever seeing a pumpkin pie made from scratch in my long life, but I always remember how on earth does that gooey stuff becomes such a tasty pie.

Nowadays, many people paint the pumpkins or buy them painted. They last longer because back in the day, a "Jack-O-Lantern" didn't age all that well and did ripen and sometimes kind of decompose after a while. I can still hear my mother say, "T.J., if you carve it now, it won't last to Halloween." She was right about that.

Next was cleaning it out well enough so those inch circular stub candles could sit squarely on the bottom and project a wonderful amount of light through the eyes nose and mouth of the "Jack-O-Lantern!" Many times extra trims and carvings had to be done to achieve that goal.

I remember the soot inside from the candles burning in them!

What I also remember was the total horror I felt when I came home and someone had vandalized my pumpkin by smashing it at night. It became a standard effort to bring the pumpkins in the night before Halloween because in our town that was called "Mischief Night," the mischief being chalking sidewalks, toilet paper in trees and eggings. If you have ever had you car egged, it was most likely on "Mischief Night."

Next was going through this whole process through the eyes of my own children and that was special. Now many sixty-something folks are experiencing it with the grandchildren.

Tomorrow I will be heading to Route 114 and Stephen Hands Road in East Hampton where I buy my pumpkins on my way to my sailboat in 3 Mile Harbor, East Hampton. Once again, I will be looking for the one that says, "Pick me!" That will be the one that flickers Halloween on our porch when the trick or treaters ring our doorbell.

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