All right, I confess. Some Jews have Christmas envy.
Me, I have Halloween envy.
When it gets cool and the leaves change color, I long for cornstalks on my doorstep, candy corn in my candy bowls, gourds on my table, spider webs on my bushes, trick-or-treaters ringing my bell. Sometimes I drive to Bergenfield and Bogota to get my Halloween fix. And, O.K., maybe I wrote a short story that managed to incorporate both the Holocaust and a werewolf.
Still, I like to think I have it under control.
One brilliant fall afternoon a couple of years ago, on a day when the leaves were turning shades of chocolate, wine, copper, and caramel, we took the kids apple picking. We drove south for an hour, got lost, consulted the GPS, did what it said, made some illegal turns, found the farm. The crowds were huge; we had to park in a lot across the road. Dutifully, we stood in line with several hundred other apple tourists, chose our picking poles for reaching the fruit at the tops of the trees, then hiked up the picturesque hills that led to the orchards. We picked apples you rarely find in stores, with enchanting names like Pink Lady, Mollie Delicious, Ginger Gold, Black Arkansas, Ida Red. At the end of our trip, as we waited to pay for our 25 pounds of apples, I selected some colorful Carnival squashes at the farmstand, which I planned to stuff for a Sukkot meal.
But then the pumpkins caught my eye.
Of course, they were everywhere. Tiny squat cuties, small enough to hang in the sukkah. Orange pumpkins like cantaloupes, piled high in wooden bins. Classic round pumpkins, like the one Cinderella used for her carriage, set up in rows on bales of hay. White pumpkins. Beige pumpkins. Gigantic monstrous prize-winning pumpkins, the size and weight of a Smartcar.
It’s just a vegetable, I told myself. It’s just a seasonal harvest decoration, I told myself. I’ll make a pie with it, I told myself.
So I bought one.
Of course, it was bound to happen. Upon bringing it into the house, one of the kids (I won’t name names) asked if we could carve a face into it. I uttered the traditional explanations for why Orthodox Jews don’t celebrate Halloween. I suggested that as an alternative, we carve the words “Shabbat Shalom” into it.
And then I caved.
With a short, sharp knife, I cut two cheery triangles for eyes, a nose, a jagged smile. It took me about 20 minutes. (Two years of mandatory graduate-level sculpture classes, baby!) When I was done, I left my creation on the china cabinet in the dining room.
See? I told myself. It’s a pumpkin, not a pagan god.
Or was it?
Two days later, the fruit flies appeared. At first, there were just a couple malingering around a bowl of ripe bananas in the kitchen. I tossed the bananas into the fridge and ignored the flies, assuming they would disappear on their own. But by the end of Day Three, a full-blown swarm of tiny winged critters was hovering around my Jewish jack-o’-lantern. Mysteriously, they managed to avoid the strategically placed coils of flypaper I hung around the house.
Coincidence? Or biblical scourge?
It was only then that I noticed; our pumpkin looked…well…fiendish. Gray fuzzy mold had taken over the interior, and scowled malevolently at us from those glowering triangular eyes.
After that, the pumpkin moved out to the deck.
Day after day, we watched the thing collapse, settling in on itself like a demonic orange troll. Day after day, the fruit flies increased their numbers, turning our friendly little pumpkin into something that wouldn’t be out of place in Lord of the Flies. When I finally picked up the courage to throw it away, raccoons rescued it from the garbage can and deposited it on our front steps. At least, I hope it was raccoons…
Perhaps I should have carved “Shabbat Shalom” into it, after all.