(Below is a short story I wrote five years ago before I was a pastor. I'm hardly a Halloween guy, but this one just kind of came to me. Hope you enjoy. - Pastor Scott)
When I got home the night after Halloween, I noticed the once smiling jack-o-lantern in my front yard was smashed beyond hope. A wave of indignation washed over me, quickly followed by a ripple of dread.
Let me tell you about the wave of indignation first.
It is my sincere hope that you would find the indignation self-evident; my daughter Jane, had poured her artistic soul into crafting “Jack,” over the previous three days. Three days, whereby she gutted pumpkin seeds all over the kitchen table and, eventually, the newly-laid hardwood floor. Three long days in which the house reeked of rotten Thanksgiving. On one particular day, I came into the kitchen with my laptop in hand, the view screen blindfolding my eyes to the carnage of Jack’s innards beneath my $40 mukluk slippers.
My laptop went straight upwards. I did not fare as well.
My wife, Karen, had the presence of mind to springboard herself airborne-style to catch the computer, but she only did so at the expense of my rib cage which unpleasantly became her trampoline. Ironically, my loving daughter used this moment to “express her discomfort” over our kitchen antics, now the cause of disrupting her artistic…whatever. I hope you can appreciate what I mean when I say that a hefty price was paid by all for that infernal pumpkin, which now sat on my front porch looking as though someone punched its teeth out.
Now, the ripple of dread.
Something curious ran through my mind as I stared at the hit-and-run. I had left the house at 7AM that morning to get a jump on Sunday’s sermon. Or, at least, that’s what I thought I did. I started to rack my brain trying to remember leaving the house at all, with little success. I’m not a morning person by nature and it is not unreasonable to conclude that I didn't achieve true consciousness until somewhere between the daily run up the Interstate and the elders’ meeting at 9. Still, I was puzzled that such a smelly, orangey mess could have escaped my gaze, so I quickly concluded that something happened to Jack while I was at the church all day.
I re-arranged the sprinkler on the lawn, still nagged by my lack of memory. I wrinkled my brow, as I realized I didn’t remember part of the night before, either. The part I did remember was Karen’s Staff Halloween Party (she works at Franklin’s Friendly Flowers). Like the mature, community leader that I am, I whined like a spoiled ten-year-old all week that I had to attend this party. “Your work buddies spend the whole evening walking on pins and needles just because the pastor showed up,” I said. People generally change their behaviour when I walk into the room. The off-color jokes get swept under the carpet and the liquor gets locked up in the cabinet. Anyway, I did inevitably go to the party and I did eat stale crab cakes and the Franklins did lock up the Pumpkin Schnapps when I walked in the door.
Then the rest got a little fuzzy. Someone at the party served up some tasty Halloween squares for dessert (of which I had more than a few to kill the taste of the crab cakes). Someone else told bad jokes in a Donald Trump costume.
That's all I could remember.
I shrugged my shoulders and walked through the front door, welcomed by the icy glare of my daughter, holding two splintered halves of a Reggie Jackson-autographed Louisville Slugger that was caked in pumpkin guts.
“What happened?” I asked.
My daughter went into Angry Princess mode.
“All you had to do was tell me you hated my jack-o-lantern! You didn’t have to go all mobster on him! What kind of pastor are you?!” She ran in apoplectic fury upstairs to her room.
My wife calmly made her way in from the living room. I repeated my question. Her reply was cryptic, but calm.
“Pop quiz, honey. How many of those Halloween squares did you eat last night?”
“I don’t understand. My daughter accuses me of pumpkinslaughter, and you — ,”
“As near as anyone can remember, the best guess is fourteen, dear,” she answered herself.
“So, I ate pumpkin squares! Who cares?”
“Spiked pumpkin squares, dear.”
“Spiked…what do you mean?”
“I mean like Pumpkin Schnapps-spiked.”
Everyone experiences shame differently. Some turn red, others cry. I feel a burning flame ignite in my heel and slowly burn its way up to my forehead, which was now a little moist. “What did I do?” I whispered.
“You ranted for fifteen minutes about how everyone needs to forget that you’re a pastor and just lighten up and relax. You stumbled to the piano and attempted to strong-arm the room to join you in a chorus of Dude Looks Like a Lady, after which you suddenly bolted out the door, leaving me to scrape our dignity off the floor.” She stayed as placid as a January pond.
"I don't remember any of that," I said. It did not help my case.
It all started coming back to me, then. Around the four-squares point, I remember a conversation with Ms. Brenner about how she wished church music wasn’t so “anal.” I’m sure by that, she meant boring.
At eight squares, I preached a sermon to Old Man Franklin about the hidden virtues of alcohol and how the Apostle Paul said that “everything is permissible.”
By twelve squares, the room moved like Jeff Gordon on the final lap at Daytona. I think it was at this point that Dr. Portobello, a retired 93-year-old dentist, told me that he went into Franklin’s Flowers a few days ago to buy flowers for Mrs. Geranium (yes, really), an 87-year-old widow in his nursing home he’d taken a shine to, and noticed the handyman Jack Studmann flirting with my wife and thought that I might want to do something about that. “If it were my wife, I’d take a club to him!” he chuckled.
I now looked at the remains of the Louisville Slugger in horrified silence.
As I grabbed the snow shovel from the storage closet to scrape poor Jack off of my front porch, Karen asked, “So, why did you smash Jane’s pumpkin?”
I glanced over my shoulder only for a moment and muttered, “Why do they have to call them jack-o-lanterns, anyway?” She said nothing and I proceeded to the porch like a good mobster to dispose of the dead body.
I am a caretaker. I don’t clean office buildings or horse stables. Rather, I am a caretaker of my own physical body.