By Ron Gawel
When I was growing up in Niagara Falls, every year it seemed Halloween officially began with drives down lonely country roads, and noticing unending acres of dried out, deadening corn fields, taking their last breath.
There were along the routes stray pumpkins for sale, hundreds of them piled high on private properties, others crying out from lonely pumpkin patches for mercy, all begging for one last chance at being a “chosen one.”
I already knew in my heart, even as a kid, that it was too late for them and they would not be around to see or be a part of the Halloween night celebration. They would be destined to most likely rot into oblivion.
Each year on Oct. 30, we’d have on the front porch steps two hollowed out pumpkins, each one bearing its own unique look and identity with big grins that we as kids created with our own imaginations. We gave names to our beloved pumpkins. They took on distinct personalities that came from within us as we carved and created their very being, giving them individual identities.
On the night before Halloween, they glowed in glory in the darkness of the night as they made their debut, displaying their happy, welcoming facades. This tradition has continued into adulthood with my wife, Eileen, and me.
On one recent particular Halloween Eve we took a drive to do the “Haunted Fortress” tour at Fort Niagara. In pulling out of the driveway, we set our eyes upon the grinning pumpkins, knowing full well we might not see them again. Who knows, we might come home to find them smashed to smithereens on the street pavement, crushed beyond recognition by some unfeeling prankster.
It was an unseasonably cool night out and upon arriving at the Old Fort we were soon huddled around a huge blazing bonfire, where we gathered with all the other folks to get some warmth. Close encounters with “ghosts” of dead inhabitants of the fort were to come our way and offer genuine spook tactics and tales to entertain the crowd. On the walk through the hallowed stone buildings from another time, which stood starkly, in the dimly lit shadows of hand-held flashlights and the crescent moon glow, we heard or imagined voices crying out. Later, when walking through the ancient cemetery grounds, we heard grim horror stories of how certain individuals went to their deaths. It was a memorable evening.
We were glad to return home and see our jack-o-lanterns still glowing on the front steps. They would remain intact there for four more consecutive evenings.
A great tragedy struck the fifth night as culprits kidnapped one of our jack-o-lanterns, which we would never see again. Its companion was kicked to the side of the steps, its once smiling facade rudely smashed.
As it was, their reign of holiday glory was sadly coming to an end as they had begun showing noticeable signs of aging and deteriorating, dying like beloved friends. Our jack-o-lanterns would probably soon have to be trashed, always a hard time for me, especially as a kid, meeting certain death and ready for arrival in that gigantic, glorious pumpkin patch in the great beyond.
Ron Gawel, of Niagara Falls, has a hard time saying goodbye to his jack-o-lanterns.