Monday, October 27, 2008

Khalil's First Jack o' Lantern!

After a recent trip to Oneida I brought some pumpkins back to Millburn. I lugged two of them to work with me, along with some paring knives. During the day I went next door to Duane Reade and bought some Christmas lights, for many years now my illumination of choice for jack o' lanterns. After work I lugged everything onto the trains and across East Orange to Khalil's place. My arms were about ready to fall off by the time I got there. Oh man, was it worth it.

I hauled the pumpkins out, cleaned them off, and threw myself into the task of introducing Khalil to the fine art of jack o' lantern carving. I started by telling him what Michelangelo had supposedly said: that there was a statue already there in the rock, and the sculptor's job was to remove everything else. In the same way, I feel that there's a spirit inside every pumpkin and it's our job to cut away all the rest in order to bring out that spirit. He picked his pumpkin and I helped him cut off the top and scrape out the inside. I asked him what sort of a spirit he thought his pumpkin had, and he said he thought it should be scary. So I began mine, intending it as a companion piece to his: a startled, scared pumpkin looking askance at its menacing neighbor. I kept an eye on Khalil, and was impressed with what I saw.

I've been carving pumpkins since I can remember. It's one of my favorite activities, and easily my most important holiday ritual. Those spirits I've brought out of countless pumpkins have always had a unique potency to me, so I vividly remember how it felt to learn the art as a child. Making very jagged mouths is hard because you're cutting along diagonals and because you have to cut the mouth into small chunks before you can push it through; it's easy to slice off an opposing tooth and botch your own work. So I was impressed that Khalil, on his very first try at carving a jagged mouth, needed no help from me: he figured out how to subdivide the mouth and he did it all without any lost teeth.

Once we finished I put my jack o' lantern in the proper position next to his, plugged in the Christmas lights, and fed them into the tops of the pumpkins. By that time Khalil was visibly, and quite audibly, excited. When his mother turned off the kitchen lights so that we could see our creations in all their glory, he started jumping up and down and pumping his fists in triumph. He's a sharp, enthusiastic, creative kid, and I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have shared this tradition with him.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Second Walk and a Second Italian Cheeseburger

Tonight was another night of walking and talking. As we made our way west along Main Street I talked about my recent canoe trip in Minnesota, and Khalil talked about difficulties between the girls and boys at school, and of course about one of his favorite subjects: video games. Suddenly I recognized the neighborhood: we were in Orange, just around the corner from my mechanic. Khalil was impressed that we'd walked that far. We reversed course and went to Roberto's, again splitting an Italian Cheeseburger. It was already becoming a habit.

For dessert we got ice cream at Rita's. I walked Khalil home, again listening as he talked about some challenges he'd faced at school. I grew up in farming country, so I never faced the challenges he has to face. I'm glad that Khalil feels that he can confide in me, and I hope that the advice I gave him will be useful.