Last column a story about making a face, and lots of friends

November 01, 1998


There's good news and bad news.

First, the good news. My mom and I carved our first pumpkin together since the Middle Ages the other night. It was an event to remember.

I bought this 25-pound pumpkin (my first mistake) from a roadside stand, and took it home, where it sat on the front porch next to the too-tall dried cornstalk for a couple of weeks until Halloween was upon us.

The other night, I carried it back in (with bent back) on mom's instructions and dropped it on the kitchen counter.


I thought it would be simple. Mom and I would de-gut the thing, and carve it. Eyes. Nose. Canine teeth.

Simple, right?


My mother is an artist. Mom sat down at the kitchen table with a pen and a piece of notebook paper and drew two big circles.

"Well, do you want a smiley face or something evil?" she asked.

I was rather taken aback, since I figured we'd just wing it and hack away until we thought it resembled a face. That's sort of the way I do my art. It flows from a wellspring of creativity inside.

That's not the way mom does her art. It is structured and disciplined and when she draws something, it resembles something real.

"I don't care what it looks like," I said. "What do you want?"

"I don't know," she said.

It was already 9 p.m., and I had to get up early the next day.

"Why don't we each draw a couple of faces, and see what we like," she suggested cheerfully.

She must have taken a pep pill. She was usually getting ready for bed by that time.

She drew beautiful pictures of catlike faces on her piece of paper.

I drew ghoulish, crude images.

"I like yours," I said. "I like that one that looks like a cat."

My mom hung the drawing on the kitchen wall above the pumpkin, went into the living room, sat down and started watching TV.

"You go ahead and carve it, honey," she said. "If you want, you can even put whiskers on it."

I just looked at her. Did you ever try to carve whiskers in a pumpkin that has three-inch thick walls of steel?

"I thought we were doing this together," I said.

"I thought you'd have fun doing it," she replied.

Two hours later, the pumpkin was carved. I had permanently bent one of those indestructible Japanese serrated knives that are supposed to last a lifetime, and re-injured the thumb that went numb after bowling tenpins. Too bad. It had just begun to heal.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten to leave eyeballs in the pumpkin's gaping sockets. The nose was too big and the teeth too little. There were no whiskers whatsoever.

Any resemblance between the pumpkin's face and mom's drawing were purely coincidental.

When I finished, mom came in to look at the creation. I saw her flinch.

"How do you like it?" I said. My thoughts were dulled from exhaustion, or I never would have asked that question.

"Well..." she said.

"Glad you like it," I said quickly. "Guess I can take it back outside now."

Mom was staring at the pumpkin. Her eyes were sort of glazed over. "Well..." she said.

I did the clean and jerk with the pumpkin, which amazingly was not an iota lighter than it was before it was emptied, and (with bent back) carried it back outside.

Mom was sort of standing there with mouth agape.

"Looks like you might be ready to yawn," I offered. "Maybe you ought to go to bed."


Now for the bad news, which may be good news, depending on how you feel about this column.

Friday was my last day at the Herald-Mail Co., and this will be my last column, at least for this newspaper.

Writing this is the saddest part of leaving. I've come to feel part of a larger family, and can't tell you how much the letters, cards, calls and comments have meant to me, and to my family, over the years.

I'm leaving for a new job in Chambersburg, Pa. Maybe they'll let me write a column there. I'm not sure yet. Or maybe I'll make a try at syndication. I've been putting that off too long.

Or maybe, as one reader suggested, I'll put all my craziness together into book form. My brother Ralph will get a special section. He'd like that. Actually, he'd probably demand that.

At any rate, I'd like to keep in touch. You can write me at P.O. Box 2754, Hagerstown, MD 21741.

You say I've given you laughter, and I thank you for that opportunity. Humor keeps us sane and healthy in a world of increasing violence and skepticism.

Now I want to tell you what you've given me. You've given me your life stories and your funny tales. You've shared your families and your feelings. You've given me the joy of knowing I've made a difference.

I thank you for that.

I wish you all love, and much laughter.

I'll miss you. I really will.

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