We got the last of this year's harvest in just before the weather turned, as always saving the best for last.

That would be the jack-o-lanterns, of course.

We used to grow plain old pumpkins like everybody else, and we still do grow a few of them, for the pies and for Sweetie's punkin bread, which she bakes for all the shut-ins, and the sick and afflicted, to let them know we're keeping them in our seasonal thoughts.

But a fast-talking seed salesman came through a few years back — it was during the Homeland Security crisis, and we were holed up in the duct-tape bunker, and I suspected he was Al Qaeda and almost Cheneyed him off to the hereafter, but he didn't hold it against me, especially after I agreed to buy some of his seeds — and told us we could grow Halloween-ready jack-o-lanterns right out there in our pumpkin patch.

In fact, he said we could grow them right there in the bunker if we'd rig up one of these lighting systems like the marijuana growers use, but I didn't want any part of that. I could just see the smirks on our local-yokel authorities' faces when they raided us and I told them it wasn't illegal drugs, it was only jack-o-lanterns. The least I'd get from that scenario would be a good tasering, and all my vehicles seized and auctioned, and my jacks no doubt roached into dirty blow for corrupt re-streeting.

These pre-physiognomized jack-o-lanterns grow in all sizes — from granny apple all the way up to Huckabee before his stomach staple, and you can tell they're vine ripe when the triangle eyes and nose pop out and then the crooked grin appears, serrates, and pops out too, and the innards dry out so that there's just a handful of seeds left, and you remove them after Halloween to use for next year's planting.

The salesman gave us to think that also a candle would grow up in the bottom of the dried-out harvest-ready jack-o-lantern, and you could go out to the pumpkin patch at sundown on Halloween and cut the umbilical and take it right to your front porch and light it just in time for the first trick-or-treaters, if that's what you wanted to do.

But I think he just got carried away with that claim — his salesmanship warping toward mendacity, as often happens with seed salesmen and politicians — because after several years now of jack-o-lantern growing I've yet to see the first sign of a candle stalagmiting itself up in the belly of the beast. There's not even a waxy build-up, much less any trace of ingrown wick.

That's no problem, as far as I'm concerned, as it's no trouble whatever to trim out a little anus there on jack's bottom and plant a small tallow candle on the cutout piece — one of these birthday-cake candles will do just fine — and then superglue the cutout piece back into place. You can light one of these long matches and stick it through eye, nose, or mouth to light the candle, and I've found that it's easiest to extinguish the candle, and save the stub for later, by blowing through a soda straw. Four or five of these ghoulies glimmering and glowering away on your front porch is guaranteed to eerie up your Halloween.

We give jack-o-lanterns away to anyone who wants one, the same as with Sweetie's punkin bread. There are only a couple of exceptions. One is, we've learned that we shouldn't gift them on lower-middle-class or middle-middle-class children lest the neighborhood Republican conservatives denounce us as socialists. They compare jack-o-lantern giveaways to government health insurance for youngsters.

It's OK to give to the children of poor families because Jesus said it was, and to the children of rich families because they'll just turn up their noses at free jack-o-lanterns anyhow — but with middle-class children, it's almost certain to turn into another immoral economic disincentive. Mom and Dad will say, Why pay good money for a jack-o-lantern when we can get one free from those socialist Lancasters? We can use the dough to gamble or make a down payment on another abortion.

So we only sell them to middle-class children — on a scale, depending on size, from $2 to $15. The $2 one is pretty crummy, yes, but that $15 rascal is such to have ol' Nosferatu soiling his scarewear and is therefore a real bargain, in my opinion. It scares me just knowing the whoremonger is out there and could sprout legs. It will frighten off all trick-or-treaters under age 6, and keep them at least two blocks distant, even without the maniacal recorded laughter, or your money back.

The other exception — no jacks for you — are the children of Family Council or Focus on the Family or Moral Majority or Christian Coalition families. The elders in some of those families think that Halloween festivities in general are a first cousin to devil worship, and that jack-o-lanterns in particular are some kind of homosexual symbols or code, like Teletubbies or gerbils or AIDS research, and Sweetie and I certainly wouldn't want to be a party to any such decadence as that.



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