By: Vanessa Sgroi
The White Land Rover pulled into the DeSoto driveway on a beautiful October afternoon in Los Angeles. The driver marveled for the millionth time that he’d volunteered to go along with Roy and his two children, Christopher and Jennifer, on a trip to a “pumpkin patch” to get pumpkins, which they were going to later carve into jack-o-lanterns. The promise of a spectacular meal concocted by Roy’s wife, Joanne, was an added bonus.
He slid from the truck and headed for the front door, steeling himself for the high-pitched squeals and yells of two excited children. It took but a moment for the door to be answered by his partner.
“Hey, Johnny. C’mon in.”
Gage stepped through the outer door and followed Roy into the kitchen. Joanne turned from the counter as they entered and smiled.
“Hi, Johnny. I’m glad you decided to go today. The kids are excited.” As if to prove her words, Chris and Jennifer both came bounding down the stairs at the same time. When they spied Johnny they rushed over, exuberantly talking and vying for hugs.
“Okay. Okay. One at a time, guys.” Johnny leaned down and gave each of the kids a big hug.
“Chris, Jennifer. Go put your shoes on,” Joanne ordered softly, “Daddy wants to go soon.”
As the two kids hurried off to do as they were told, Joanne turned her attention to Roy and smiled.
“Make sure they don’t eat too many goodies at the pumpkin patch. I want them to eat some dinner.”
“I know. One glass of cider and one treat. Got it.”
Joanne pointed at her husband’s partner and grinned. “That goes for you too, Mister. I have a nice dinner planned.”
“Ahhh, Joanne, you know me. I have a hollow leg.”
“Uh huh. Remember that when you’re asking for the Alka Seltzer.”
Johnny just grinned and nodded toward the bowls and ingredients spread out on the counter. “Is that part of dinner?”
Roy’s wife shook her head no. “I’m making Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread. You’re in luck, there will be a loaf for you to take home tonight.”
Johnny’s eyes lit up with pure pleasure at the thought. He’d had Joanne’s version of Pumpkin Bread before, and he adored every last crumb of it.
At that moment the kids returned to the kitchen ready for their adventure. Roy gave Joanne a quick hug before herding their two children, and to a certain extent—Johnny, out to the station wagon.
The drive to Sweeney’s Farm Market took about 20 minutes. The farm market was all dolled up for the impending holiday, now just days away. Ghosts, witches, werewolves, and goblins glared from every nook and cranny. Pumpkins of all shapes and sizes were displayed both on the ground and crowded on to hay bales, awaiting purchase.
“Okay, guys, what do we want to do first? Haunted house? Pony rides?”
As Roy figured they would, both children piped up and answered that they wanted their treats first. He led them all over to the small concession stand.
“Son, what do you want?”
“Umm, I want cider and . . . and . . . umm . . .,” the young boy danced from foot to foot as he tried to decide. Finally, his eyes lit up as they settled on a special item.
“A caramel apple. I want cider and a caramel apple.”
His daughter stood on her tiptoes and gazed at the array of goodies on the table with a very serious look on her face. “I want cider too. And a . . . a cupcake. But not a chocolate one. I want that one there—with the pumpkin face on it.”
“You want something, Junior? I’ll buy.”
“Yeah, as long as you don’t get carried away.”
“Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?”
Roy smiled. “Nothing. Just pick something, will you? And remember what Joanne said.”
“Fine. I’ll have a glass of cider and one of those giant peanut butter cookies.”
The woman working the concession stand gathered up the goodies and placed them in front of Roy before filling four glasses with fresh apple cider. The blond-haired man paid for their treats and the quartet wandered over to a nearby picnic table to enjoy them.
Ten minutes later, Roy was staring at two very messy children. With the patience of a long experienced parent, he produced a couple of wet naps in foil wraps from his pants pocket. He quickly cleaned his children up and then quirked an eyebrow at Johnny.
“You need one too?”
“Just asking, Junior. Just asking.” Roy chuckled while Johnny just glared.
The next stop was the small haunted house erected in the far corner of the market. The wooden structure was painted black with gossamer silver spirits capering all about. Black cats and full moons, spiders and their webs completed the mood. Spooky laughter and witches’ cackles emanated from deep within the structure. The four of them walked through the house twice at Chris’s insistence before, finally, Jennifer got her much-coveted pony ride.
Then it was time for the great pumpkin hunt. After a brief discussion, they decided to split up; Johnny accompanying Chris and Roy taking Jennifer. Each pair headed in opposite directions.
Johnny trailed along after the young boy, watching as he stopped to inspect a pile of pumpkins in the sawdust.
Chris glanced over his shoulder when Johnny failed to join him.
“Aren’t you going to look for one, Uncle Johnny?”
“Uh . . . I hadn’t planned on it.”
“But ya have to! Don’t ya wanna have a jack . . . jack-o-lantern on our porch? We all do ‘em. Even Mom!”
Gage hesitated a second, but the idea sounded fun so he bent down and began examining pumpkins. He picked one up and held it up for inspection.
“How about this one?”
Chris looked and shook his head.
“That one’s too small.”
“Oh. Okay.” The dark-haired man put it back and continued with his search.
Again Chris shook his head. “Huh uh. Too skinny.”
Another minute passed before Johnny held up another contender.
“Nope. Too round. And . . . and it’s sorta green. Pumpkins hafta be orange.”
Exasperated, Johnny put the pumpkin down and watched Chris search. Suddenly, the little boy let out an excited shout.
“This is it! This is it, Uncle Johnny!” Chris leaned over and struggled to pick up a large, round gourd. The prize pumpkin was so heavy that he was barely able to lift it from the ground.
“Here, Chris, let me get that.” Johnny easily hefted the pumpkin into his arms.
“What? Oh. Oh, mine’s right here,” the dark-haired man reached down and grabbed the first pumpkin he came into contact with.
Chris made a face at his choice. “Boy, Uncle Johnny, that sure is an ugly pumpkin.”
Gage looked down and studied his choice, silently admitting that it was indeed an ugly one.
“Well, that’s what Halloween is all about, right? Ugly, scary stuff.”
The little boy looked thoughtful for a moment before nodding his head. “Uh huh. Sure is a good one then.”
Johnny chuckled. “Let’s go find your Dad and Jennifer.”
It didn’t take long for the two of them to find Roy and his daughter on the other side of the lot. His partner stood holding two pumpkins while Jenny struggled to find another.
As they came closer, they heard Roy murmur, “C’mon, Jen. We need to get going.”
“I know, Daddy. But I want Mommy to have a nice one.”
“Jennifer, Mommy will LOVE that one right there, I promise.”
With her hands on her hips, Jennifer pointed to a nearby pumpkin with her sneakered foot.
“Are you sure? Really sure?”
“I’m very, very sure.”
“Hey, Roy, we’ve got ours.”
“Good,” Roy made a show of inspecting them carefully, “Chris, you picked good ones.”
“I didn’t pick the ugly one. That one’s Uncle Johnny’s.”
“Oh, I see,” Roy nodded gravely, but couldn’t quite keep the grin from his face, “Well, are we all ready?”
The children nodded.
They paid for their pumpkins and headed for the car. The drive home was filled with chatter about what kinds of faces would be carved on their jack-o-lanterns.
Joanne greeted the triumphant pumpkin hunters with a huge smile when they hustled through the door. After dutifully inspecting each gourd, she directed the kids to the backyard.
“Roy, dinner’s about ready, but I think we should do the carving first.”
Her husband nodded in agreement. “I’ll get some newspapers.”
While he went in search of said newspapers, Joanne extracted two large, wicked-looking knives from a nearby drawer. She handed one to the dark-haired man.
“You and Roy are on knife detail.”
“Uh . . . okay.”
The three adults soon joined the kids out back. Roy laid newspapers out, and they all gathered around in a circle.
The tops were cut off the children’s pumpkins first. Chris and Jennifer then gleefully dug in to empty out the seeds. While they were busy, Johnny cut the top off of his own gourd.
With a grimace, he stuck his hand inside to begin cleaning it out.
“Eww, this is gross,” he complained pulling his fist out and dumping pumpkin guts to the ground in front of him, “Really gross.”
“Uncle Johnny! This is fun!” Chris giggled.
Gage looked over at the child, watching as he happily piled pumpkin innards in front of him.
Joanne chimed in, gesturing toward the mess. “Wait till you taste my Roasted Pumpkin Seeds. This will all be worth it.”
Looking back at his own, he got into the spirit and dug in once again.
Some time later, after much delightful debating and some serious laughter, all five pumpkins were transformed into marvelous jack-o-lanterns befitting the scariest of Halloweens.
“Okay, kids, let’s get cleaned up and we’ll get ready for dinner.”
“Mommy, can we put them all out on the porch first?”
“Okay, yes, you and Jennifer can carry them out to the porch. Then come in and clean up.”
Roy’s wife disappeared into the house, returning moments later with a big plastic bowl. She handed it to Roy for him to gather the seeds before returning to the kitchen to wash up and put the finishing touches on dinner.
A few minutes later, Johnny and Roy followed. They took turns washing up in the sink.
After washing and drying them, Johnny clapped his hands together. “So what’s for dinner? It smells great!”
“Why, thank you, Johnny. We’re having Swiss Steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, and salad. Think that’ll fill you up?”
* * *
Much later, long after the sun had set, the front door of the DeSoto household opened and the dark-haired man exited the house. He stood for a few moments looking down at the five jack-o-lanterns roosting there waiting to be lit. Johnny thought back over the day. He’d had a good time, despite his initial misgivings. A lopsided grin graced his face as he tucked the loaf of Pumpkin Bread under his arm and contentedly made his way to his vehicle. The smile stayed in place all the way home.
* * * The End * * *
Thanks for the encouragement, Audrey. It means a lot!
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Stories By Vanessa Halloween Stories