A Pumpkin for St. Michael
September 29th is the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, or Michaelmas as it is known in European countries. St. Michael cast the devil out of heaven, and is the commander of the armies of God. He is traditionally shown fighting a dragon, or with his foot on the back of the devil. He is the patron of soldiers and police officers, but also of the ill and suffering. He has appeared to people at various times curing diseases.
Three years ago on September 1st the family and I made a trip out to Whole Foods for some grocery shopping. We arrived to find some especially large stemmed pumpkins for sale, the first of the season.
They were magical. Huge green stems as thick as my forearm, and rich and vibrant shades of orange.
They were Wolf Pumpkins, a special variety I’ve only seen sold at Whole Foods. They were relatively cheap, too, at $12 per. I’ve since seen pumpkins of similar size and quality sold for $40-$70 per.
We picked up the one on the left. I knew I needed to reserve it for something special.
My original plan was just to carve a more elaborate, but still basically standard, jack o’ lantern. By the end of September, though, I had come around to the idea of doing an off-season pumpkin carving in tribute to St. Michael, one of the name patrons of our (then) unborn son. I wanted to try a new technique, pumpkin etching, that I hadn’t played around with much up to that point. I also wanted to use my new pumpkin carving hand tool I just bought at the hardware store.
I did a Google image search and found a rather peculiar image of St. Michael on what appeared to be a pagan/wiccan/new age website. It was one of the only ones that I thought might translate well onto a pumpkin carving, though it seemed pretty ambitious.
It took me four hours to complete, which I did at a single stretch on a Friday night, just in time to complete it for the feast. Six times I came close to stopping and giving up in despair. The end result showed many signs of rush, but most noticeable was the fact the I didn’t pre-measure the lettering across the top banner, which was supposed to read “SAINT MICHAEL PROTECT US FROM EVIL. By the end I had run out of room, so I had to write the word “EVIL” in very small print, crammed in right at the end. The result was barely legible.
I had no idea how long the etching would last. A carved pumpkin will sometimes begin to rot after only a few days, and even intact pumpkins will begin to rot after a month or so. The St. Michael was still in perfect condition by Halloween, so it sat out on the doorstep to greet our trick or treaters. I don’t think anybody noticed it, though.
Halloween came and went, and the St. Michael was still in perfect shape. As it dried it took on a more finished, smoother, more taught appearance that I liked better. It almost looked cured. We kept it on the fireplace for a quite a long time. And the longer it lasted, the more remarkable it seemed.
I really hoped that it would make it a full year, but about one month shy of the next feast day, the pumpkin finally began to rot.
Curiously, the etched portions fared better than the ontouched portions of the pumpkin. It seemed to cave in from the sides and top.
There was no way I was going to toss this in the trash, so I set it out in our garden to decompose. After about a month or so, it had shriveled up, but the design was still visible on the part of the husk that remained.
After a full year I was plowing up the garden to make room for more plantings when I noticed that the beautiful stem and even part of the husk was still there, dried but in otherwise good condition.
I brought it in as a memento of my favorite and most elaborate etching ever. It sits on the mantle to this day, and you can still make out the word SAINT on the shriveled up pumpkin skin.
The next year pumpkins did sprout in the garden, as you might imagine, but it was never a very good garden anyway, and the Texas heat killed the plants. By this year I had planted firewheels and there were no more signs of any volunteer pumpkin sprouts. I haven’t seen the Wolf Pumpkins since then until this very September, and I wonder what I should do with them this time?