If you don’t know what Pumpkining is, chances are you did not grow up in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Pumpkining may exist in other towns, but aside from my high school friends, no one I’ve met has ever heard of it.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in the suburbs and there wasn’t much to do on weeknights aside from having a friend over under the auspices of “studying together” when really you just wanted company while you watched “Club MTV.” But it turns out you could only listen to Downtown Julie Brown’s voice for so long before you needed to find something else to do.
So come October, there was Pumpkining—part Robin Hood, part love letter, part excuse to hang out with your friends on a school night. Technically, you didn’t have to steal the pumpkins, but we always did—usually from a field in the neighboring town of Concord because we were too young to realize that the local farmer was most likely the exception to our blanket generalization that “everyone in Concord was rich, so it wouldn’t matter.”
Once we had a half dozen or so pumpkins stashed in the trunk, the deliveries would begin. The most important part of Pumkining was the positioning of the car—not right in front of the pumpkinee’s house, but not too far away to make a clean getaway. Once parked, the pumpkiner would scrawl a Magic Marker message on the pumpkin. Something along the lines of “Dear Tommy, Did you know Algebra has the word bra in it? (ha, ha) Happy Halloween! Love, your Secret Admirer” or something even less clever. The main thing was to let the pumpkinee know that you were thinking of him, and that you needed to proclaim these affections in the way only a fruit in the gourd family could express.
If someone had a boyfriend, they got first priority. Crushes came next, then friends.
The point person for each delivery would then slink out of the car (often, my own Oldsmobile Delta 88) and into the crisp fall air, quietly padding across the darkened lawn (unless they hadn’t raked yet, in which case they crunched conspicuously) until they reached the front door. Once there, the pumpkin would be placed on the pumpkinee’s doorstep, and the door knocked or the bell rung (with urgency, multiple times) at which point the pumpkiner would make a mad dash back to the car, and the driver would peel out (usually before the person had even managed to close the car door) and often to the screams of “Oh my God! Did you see that? It was his Dad!”
For all I know, Pumpkining may still be a tradition in Chelmsford, MA. Maybe we can make it a tradition in all of our towns.