Pumpkin face-off: Effort provides creative redemption

By David Talley | Published Saturday, October 1, 2016

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As a former child, I love Halloween. Back then it was about the candy and dressing up (things I still enjoy), but over time, and mostly due to a lack of appropriate me-sized costumes, those aspects of the holiday went by the wayside.

Near the end of my trick-or-treating career, my parents decided I was old enough to be trusted with cutlery. While we didn’t decorate for Halloween every year, I got to carve the jack-o’-lantern when we had one. This was a generous gesture by my parents because I was terrible at it.

PUMPKIN MADNESS – Racey Burden and David Talley discovered just how difficult it is to carve a jack-o’-lantern this week when they tried to make faces out of pumpkins from Decatur Farm to Market. Believe it or not, neither of them are professional pumpkin-carvers. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

I may have been creative, but 13-year-old David hadn’t quite developed the fine motor skills necessary make a decent jack-o’-lantern. Most of my products had either one or two “do-over faces” and usually ended up looking more like cave drawings than Halloween decorations.

While most kids might not be aware their creative efforts were sub-par, I knew. Instead of placing the finished product on the front lawn, I’d usually keep it back toward the porch so only other kids coming to trick-or-treat could see it.

With redemption in mind, I set out to repair my pumpkin-carving reputation.

Racey and I set the parameters early – getting inspiration from photos online is OK, but no tracing stencils to make the perfect cut. We also used regular kitchen knives and serving spoons instead of carving kits because that’s what we had in the Messenger office.

Early on, we picked the delivery area behind the newsroom as our carving location. The pumpkins we received were pretty big, and it seemed like it’d be a lot easier to clean up their innards on linoleum than it would on carpet.

After a number of trips to the office kitchen to grab paper towels, knives, newspaper to shield the table, spoons and more knives, we were ready to begin.

We quickly figured out the shorter knives were more effective. None were sharp enough to make a line though, so cutting was a process of stabbing the pumpkin repeatedly to make the needed circle around the top. We still have 20 fingers between us, so I’d consider this part a success.

I knew cleaning the thing out would be gross, and I was right. Those big pumpkins have a lot of innards, and we ended up with a bowl full of seeds and stringy orange material.

Racey had the idea to grab a marker and draw a few guiding lines on the pumpkins before cutting, which was pretty smart. It’s something I never did as a young pumpkin carver, and it made a big difference.

I challenged myself to carve rounded eyes with actual pupils attached near where the bridge of the nose would be if this were a real head – not an easy task, considering it meant carefully stabbing four relatively rounded shapes. As a kid, most of my pumpkins had rectangular eyes, making them look like some sort of generic RoboCop.

The face turned out OK. One eye is bigger than the other, but they’re mostly round, and I think the asymmetry gives it a comical effect. A smile with just two bottom teeth completed the look.

It’s not perfect, but it’s genuine and I’m proud of how it turned out. I can’t wait to take it home to display it by the road for everyone to see.

David Talley is a Messenger reporter.

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