Pumpkin rule No. 1: Have fun

News-DemocratOctober 27, 2013 

For Mary Turner, the bigger the pumpkin the better.

That gives her more room to carve zany eyes, eyebrows, noses, mouths and ears for her jack-o'-lanterns.

"I try to use my imagination and think outside the box," said Mary, 61, of Fairview Heights.

Sometimes she puts a hole where the nose should be and sticks in a gourd.

"It looks like an elephant trunk," said her grandson, Lucas Helms, 6, of Caseyville.

Mary can't remember a time when she didn't carve pumpkins for Halloween.

As a child, she and her parents and eight siblings made a pilgrimage to Braeutigam Orchards every year.

"It was nothing for us to fill up a whole wagon," said mother Hazel Baker, 81, of Fairview Heights. "Sometimes there'd be 25 of us, and every kid would pick out their own pumpkin."

Today, Mary makes several jack-o'-lanterns a year and gives them to family and friends.

One serves as a centerpiece for a Halloween party hosted by her sister, Jayne Hauser. Neighborhood kids and moms who help with decorating can't wait to see it.

"Last year, I got a double-decker," said Jayne, 52, of O'Fallon. "It was a pumpkin on top of a pumpkin. It's extreme pumpkins carving."

In recent years, Mary also has done carving demonstrations at October meetings of the Fairview Heights Woman's Club.

Hazel is a charter member, and Mary joined the club 14 years ago when she moved back from Wisconsin.

"The women absolutely love (the demonstration)," said Recording Secretary Ruth Ogles. "We set up a card table with a Halloween cloth, and Mary will say, 'What kind of nose do you want?' or 'What kind of mouth do you want?' And she'll carve it.

"She brings quite a large pumpkin. We always offer to pay for it, but she never lets us."

Mary is a former addiction counselor and retail clerk who baby-sits some of her seven grandchildren.

Her favorite holiday? Halloween, of course.

"I guess it's because you get to dress up, and it's so much fun for the kids," she said. "You don't have to spend a lot of money. It's low stress. It's just a fun time."

Mary made her first jack-o'-lantern of the season early last week. She used a plastic scoop to scrape out the pulp of an 18-inch-tall pumpkin.

"When I hollow them out, I try to get the walls as thin as possible because it makes carving easier," she said.

Mary then drilled holes to outline her design and create openings for her corrugated knife.

It took less than 10 minutes to carve the face.

"She could do it in her sleep," her mother said. "She's got it all down pat, and none are ever the same."

Mary used a dark green gourd for the nose, then accessorized with a bat-shaped cupcake topper and a purple felt spider.

The final step was putting a battery-operated strobe light in the jack-o'-lantern.

"They're more colorful (than candles)," Mary said. "And they're safer."

Sometimes Mary rubs anti-bacterial hand sanitizer on raw pumpkin surfaces with a rag to slow the development of mold.

But she doesn't mind jack-o'-lanterns that are imperfect.

"I just try to have fun with it," she said. "A lot of people are too particular and try to make them too perfect. I think they're scarier when they're not."

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