Her name was Hannah. I suppose she was about 5 or 6 years old. She looked hurt.
“But you promised, Daddy,” she said. Her voice was barely louder than a whisper. Her eyes were wet, as though she was about to cry.
“I don’t know anything about pumpkins anyway,” the man said, not even looking at her. “Your mom and your granddaddy can help you. I’ve got to leave. I’ll be back Monday.”
“But you promised.”
There was a long silence and then the little girl quietly started to sob. Her mother looked angry, but you could tell from the tired look on her face that she had been through things like this with her husband before. My bet — and it’s just a guess — is that she expected it.
We were sitting in a fast food restaurant Friday evening. The place was busy and nobody else seemed to be paying attention to the little drama at the booth next to me.
A car drove up outside and the mother told Hannah to go greet her grandparents and wait for her.
“You’re a pathetic excuse for a man,” she hissed as soon as Hannah was out the door. “You promised this to her and she was looking forward to it. Do you know she was telling everybody at school that her daddy was helping her decorate her pumpkin tonight?”
“It’s just a stupid pumpkin,” he said without emotion. “It won’t matter. I work my tail off to make a living for you, but nothing’s ever good enough. Y’all are just ungrateful.”
“You’re her father, not an ATM machine,” the woman said. She sounded tired and bitter.
“You just don’t appreciate me,” he said. “Any time I need to have some fun, you want me to feel guilty.”
“You go off with your friends and get drunk every weekend,” she said. “You’re supposed to be her father and you’re supposed to be my husband, but you act like you’re still a frat boy.”
More was said, but it was all the same. I couldn’t hear all of it. I suspect they’ve said all these things before.
Then he suddenly stood up and said he had to go. Without another word to her, he headed to the far side of the restaurant, leaving his wife sitting alone — and his disappointed daughter sitting outside in a car with her grandparents.
In that moment, I wanted nothing more than to go tell that little girl to come with me and we would go make a jack-o’-lantern together. I wanted to ask her what kind of face he should have and where we were going to put him when we were finished.
As I sat quietly with my own thoughts — empathy for disappointed Hannah and sympathy for her hurting mother — the mom got up and walked outside to try to salvage her daughter’s evening.
I haven’t made a jack-o’-lantern in many years. When I was a child, I did it every year. (I think it was every year. Is that right?) I don’t ever recall my father being involved, but my recollection is that my mother taught my sisters and me how to do it. When was that? How old were we? I can’t remember.
I left the restaurant all alone, pondering — not for the first time — the irony of the fact that I wish I had children with whom to experience these child-like joys, while many of those who have the opportunity don’t want it and even avoid it.
On the way home, I stopped and bought the biggest pumpkin I could find and I bought four small candles. Is that enough candles? I couldn’t remember.
Once home, I gave Jack a lobotomy. That’s what we used to call it sometime in my past, so that’s what it was tonight. I cut the top open and scooped all the gross guts and seeds out.
Then I drew a classic jack-o’-lantern face on the front and started cutting. On the lower left side of the mouth, I messed up and what should have been a tooth ended up like something else. (You can see it on the picture.) But I just laughed — and Lucy and the cats didn’t seem to mind.
I put the candles inside and lit the wicks. Then I put the top on and carried it outside.
I wish I had my own little girl and little boy to make jack-o’-lanterns with and to do all the “boring” and routine activities of childhood. But since I don’t have children — not yet — Lucy will sit here and watch with me instead.
I know it’s silly, but I like to think there’s some way that Hannah could come by my house in a car and see this jack-o’-lantern sitting on my front steps. I like to think there’s some way that a voice could whisper in her ear and say, “Hannah, this jack-o’-lantern is just for you.”
I pray you’ll have happier days ahead of you, Hannah.