Pumpkins are a big deal at this time of year.
Take the pumpkin challenge: If you live in a neighborhood, look out your front door or window. It’s a safe bet you can spot at least one, if not multiple, pumpkins without uncomfortably craning your neck or straining your eyes.
As today is Halloween, the plenteous presence of pumpkins is not surprising. What does shake me up, however, is the fact this is the second consecutive year the pumpkins we’ve placed on our front steps have been nibbled to bits by squirrels.
How many years have I gotten in the spirit of the season, using pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns as colorful outdoor decor, and never had them attacked by those ravenous rodents? Have my pumpkins suddenly become more attractive and tastier to those fluffy-tailed rascals, or are the squirrels merely bolder…or hungrier?
Whatever the case, it’s baffling to observe that few other pumpkins seem to be suffering the same inglorious fate as mine. Most people’s pumpkins appear to be intact, whether carved, painted or left in their natural state.
The crafty critters are strategic; they typically begin their pumpkin assault by munching a hole out of a pumpkin’s backside, then ducking behind the orange orb when a vehicle or pedestrian approaches. And while scooping out pumpkins in preparation for carving is not always my favorite task, I prefer to do it on my time rather than having a gnawing squirrel lick the gourd and its seeds clean with no consideration whatsoever given to design or desired candle-glow effect.
Seeing an enormous display of pumpkins can be a visual treat, as I noted when passing no fewer than four seasonal apple/pumpkin markets on recent round-trips to the Twin Cities. It was almost enough to make me stop and buy a few more–if I hadn’t been certain they, too, would become fodder for fattening squirrels instead of illumination for trick-or-treaters.
Trick-or-treating by jack-o-lantern light was a Halloween high point of my childhood, as is true for many youngsters. While I can no longer recall my most beloved Halloween costumes, the memory of the mounting excitement as gray Oct. 31st afternoons became gloomier is easily reclaimed. A fun-loving, thoughtful neighbor, Donna Peterson, always invited my brother and me over in the late afternoon to pick up a freshly made caramel apple or giant popcorn ball, and after a quick meal, it was time to take to the streets in the usually frosty air.
I didn’t know my final trick-or-treating adventure was upon me until it was over, of course. I think I was in third grade, dressed in a sheet, accompanied by a good friend, all revved up to collect more candy than my older brother. Not too long into our expedition, though, my friend (who never surpassed 5’1 as a full-grown adult and who looked much younger than her age despite being several months older than me) and I climbed the steps of a small, tidy house and chimed in unison, “Trick or treat!”
The gray-haired lady who held the screen door with one hand and a brimming bowl of candy with the other beamed at my petite friend and deposited a generous handful into her bag, saying, “Aren’t you a cute thing!”
Then she turned to me, a gangly, long-limbed ghost of a girl, and her expression morphed into a scowl as she snarled, “Aren’t you a little old to be trick-or-treating?”
Crushed by the unexpected rebuff, I shook my head and backed down the pumpkin-laden steps, treat-less, while my friend laughed at the irony. I was much less amused and much more defeated, and stunned–maybe for the first time but certainly not the last–by how unfair it was for people to judge others solely on the basis of their size and appearance.
As Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” character (and Great Pumpkin-lover) Linus said to Charlie Brown, “You’ve heard of the fury of a woman scorned, haven’t you? Well, that’s nothing compared to the fury of a woman who has been cheated out of trick-or-treats.”
Perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to reprimand the pumpkin-eating squirrels. As it is for too-tall trick-or-treaters, those pumpkins might be the only Halloween treats they get.