I was a silly little mid-western girl, living in Latin America.
Our housemother was an adorable, hard-working economics professor. She had an eye for what was real and balanced – and as a single mother, she was the champion of her four children.
One studied in London, one became a pediatric specialist, one a business woman and the last a social entrepreneur.
And I – was sad about pumpkins.
I totally got the whole college and cultural skinny about el día de los muertos –
– but I had a little brother that loved to carve pumpkins, – and I missed him, and another little one that I could have taken cute little pumpkin fotos with.
My financially savvy Spanish and French-speaking, chili-pepper loving, financial professor of a single mother looked at me as if I were the nuttiest creature she’d ever seen.
“You want to carve a pumpkin? What for?”
I blushed. “It’s tradition.” [In Spanish]
“Hija.” She said, looking at me meaningfully in the eye, “I am convinced that when you die – and you open that gate – that one of the saints is going to show you a pile of all of the good things of the earth that you’ve wasted in your lifetime. Now – tell me, what good is it to carve a pumpkin and how do you do it?”
“Well, first – you have to cut a handle into the top – like a lid. And then you use a spoon and you scoop out the seeds.”
“Do you eat the seeds?”
“Not all of the time.” I squeaked.
“Do you know that there are hungry children right outside of our door who don’t get fed on your holidays because the parents hope that some estadounidense will feed them?”
It was true, the poor were walkable distance and I rode the bus with them almost every day.
Her comment gave me an idea, but I stayed quiet.
“Now, it takes forever to prepare our pumpkin soup -” she continued on, “and you don’t know how to make it – and I don’t have time today – but I can’t open that fridge and watch you waste a whole good fruit.”
I was going to be obstinate. I was going to have to find a way around these obstacles to keep holidays holidays.
I nodded as she cleared out the kitchen satisfied with her reasoning – and headed off to a meeting – I grabbed my sneakers and ran down the steep mountainside to the store. I purchased a great big sandia and about $200 worth of candy. Poor children in make-shift costumes came out of nowhere and began to follow me up the street.
Trying to make spiritual amends, I carved the holy figure of La Virgin de Guadalupe into the watermelon – and the colors of rosa mexicana y verde were vibrant against the dinner table. I carefully cut up the inner fruit and placed it in a bowl in the fridge. Nothing wasted.
“What’s this?” (maybe with a diablos mixed in there) when my housemother tried to return from work. What was this commocion in the streets?
Poor children jumping up and down, painted with candy bars. They kept coming back to the gate all night long.
“Que hiciste!” (What have I done?)
I grinned. La Virgen de Guadalupe shined from the face of the watermelon on the table.
“I have a reputation to uphold,” I explained. “but you can’t say I didn’t listen. Nothing’s wasted.”
“Even I would waste the money for paint on you.” She said, shaking her head and laughing and shooing.
“Now, have you eaten dinner? Come, let me teach you how to make this calabaza (squash) dessert soup.”
What can you carve – if you can’t find a pumpkin in the right season? Butternut squash, apples, and acorn squash are other options.
Sometimes, it’s important to share your culture with the people around the world. Click here to read a watermelon story from a different continent.