Jake O’Lantern


When Grandpa took Moni out to the garden, she couldn’t believe it! The bushy green foliage was faded and wilted. “What happened to your garden, Grandpa?” asked Moni.

“It’s done for this year,” said Grandpa. “Tomorrow’s Halloween. Look!” He pointed to something glowing at the garden’s edge. Moni ran to see what it was.

“Pumpkins!” she cried. Scattered among the dried vines were bright orange pumpkins that had looked like dark green balls all summer. “They look happier now,” said Moni.

“That’s why I like pumpkins so much,” said Grandpa. “When the rest of the garden is dying, the pumpkins are still there, looking bright and cheerful.”

“They get to stay around for Halloween,” said Moni.

“That’s right,” agreed Grandpa. “Better pick out the best one for your jack-o’-lantern.”

When Moni finally decided on the biggest pumpkin a four-year-old girl could lift, Grandpa cut it off at the stem and put it in her arms. Moni could feel its cold, smooth skin as she carried it to the house.

Later, Grandpa cut a neat lid in the pumpkin’s top, and Moni scooped out the seeds inside.

“It doesn’t smell very good,” said Moni, wrinkling her nose. “But it’s still the best pumpkin, isn’t it?”

“You bet!” Grandpa laughed. He helped Moni draw triangle eyes and a curvy smile with three teeth in it. When he took his pocketknife and started to cut on the lines, Moni wanted to help. Grandpa let her hold the knife handle while he held her hand, and they carefully cut out the pumpkin’s face.

“Who’s your new friend, Moni?” Grandma asked from the living room.

Moni thought for a minute. “Jake,” she said.

“That’s my name!” declared Grandpa.

“I know,” said Moni. “That’s why I like it. It’s the best name for the best pumpkin.”

“All right,” said Grandpa. “I guess we have two Jakes this Halloween.”

On Halloween night Grandma’s kitchen smelled like apples and popcorn. Moni kept taking off Jake’s lid and looking inside. “How are we going to plug Jake in?” she asked. She remembered seeing jack-o’-lanterns glowing in the dark last year.

“Jake’s not electric,” Grandma said. “We have to light him the old-fashioned way.”

After they had affixed a candle inside Jake, Moni followed Grandma to the stove. She was surprised to see what was going into the oven. “What are those stinky pumpkin seeds doing on your cookie pans, Grandma?” asked Moni.

“I’m roasting them for a treat,” said Grandma.

Moni frowned.

“You’ll like them,” said Grandma.

Grandpa helped Moni into her panda costume. “You’re one of a kind, Moni,” he told her, smiling.

Moni carried Jake to the brick porch railing for Grandpa to light. Jake’s big, golden smile warmed the whole neighborhood.

The next day when Mother and Daddy came to take her home, Moni noticed a puddle of wax and some smoky places inside Jake. “Don’t worry. I still love you,” she said, hugging him good-bye. “See you next weekend, Jake.”

“I doubt it,” said Grandma. “I’ll probably turn Jake into pumpkin pie!”

“No!” said Moni. “I don’t want Jake to be a pie.”

“OK,” said Grandma. “Jake will be here when you come back next weekend.”

When Moni saw Jake that weekend, she was worried. His teeth had withered. His cheeks were caving in. Even his triangle eyes had gotten puckery, and his lid didn’t fit right anymore. Inside were black, fuzzy places that smelled funny. “How come he’s getting all wrinkly?” she asked Grandpa.

“That’s what happens to jack-o’-lanterns, Honey,” said Grandpa. “Once they’ve been carved, they don’t last long.”

“Next year when I pick the best pumpkin, we won’t carve it, and it won’t get old,” she said with a frown.

“Old isn’t so bad,” said Grandpa. “I’m old, and you like me, don’t you?”

“You bet,” said Moni, squeezing Grandpa’s hand.

“Remember where we put the leaves you helped me rake?” asked Grandpa.

Moni nodded.

“Tomorrow we’ll take Jake out to that compost pile with the kitchen scraps. By spring Jake will have turned into good humus to help grow more pumpkins next year.”

Moni didn’t like to think of Jake going out with eggshells and moldy leaves. “I don’t want Jake to go to waste,” she said.

“Nature never wastes anything,” said Grandpa. He gave Moni a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds. “Try some of these,” he said.

Moni carefully tried a few, then ate some more. The seeds tasted good. Then she remembered helping Grandpa poke seeds like these into the dirt and watching the plants that had grown up like magic. “Grandpa, will these seeds turn into more pumpkins?” she asked.

“No, Honey. Grandma roasted these seeds to eat. But she saved some seeds to plant. Next spring you can help me plant Jake’s seeds and watch his ‘children’ grow in the garden.”

“Will they all have champion smiles like Jake?” Moni asked.

“You bet!” replied Grandpa. “If you keep saving your jack-o’-lantern seeds, someday Jake’s great-great-grandchildren will be growing in your garden.”

Moni patted Jake’s sunken face. “You’re still one of a kind, Jake,” she said.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney