I had to feel wryly sorry for Hannah*, since at the post-Halloween sales last November she'd purchased a couple of pumpkin carving kits, complete with skeleton hand plastic gloves, wee little plastic-handled saws and tracing wheels, a seed scoop, and so on, and stencils for transferring all sorts of cunning and spooky scenes onto your pumpkin. All these past eleven months she'd been looking forward to her kids executing one of these creations, and what happens?
The little saws were effective, sorta, but a kitchen knife worked better.
The plastic scoop was useless; I provided a large metal serving spoon instead.
And despite all her suggestions and persuasions, the children did not want to use any of the store-bought designs. They wanted to carve classic jack-o'-lantern faces. With triangle eyes and noses. And grinning mouths. And pointy fangs.
Alas for us grownups! We forget that what is old and worn to us is fresh and new to the little ones. And when it comes to executing a masterpiece, the young artisan prefers that the design be his own. Even if thousands of others have done the same thing before.
And alas for us grownups, in that we're so easily suckered into finishing the nasty jobs when the kids lose patience. Thus it was I who stood stolidly by the sink with the serving spoon, cleaning the goop out of Stevie's* and Letty's* pumpkins when they'd left them hanging with orange strings.
This wasn't a task to be finished quickly. Not merely because the variety of pumpkin wouldn't let its innards go without a fight, but also because once nine-year-old Stevie* had his jack carved and done, he was at loose ends and went looking for something else to do.
And being a kid who's lived in houses in a perpetual state of renovation since he can remember, he asked, "I can help on the house! What can I do?"
Following him into the front hall, I said, "Well, there's these nails in these window jambs here that I can't get out, but I don't think you could, either. I don't have the right tools."
"I know! Use a crowbar! My dad always uses a crowbar!"
"No, the crowbar's too big. The nails are too close to the wood."
"How about a claw hammer? My dad uses that for nails!"
"No, tried that. Too big."
"What about that?" he asked, pointing to the catspaw pry bar. "That oughta work!"
"Well, I've tried that before, and couldn't get the groove to fit around the nail. See?" And I showed him.
"Oh," he responded. "But what about . . . ? Do you have . . . ?"
And I, ever optimistic and ready to try anything to extract those blasted nails, brought the child whatever he requested. But neither nailpullers, nor scraper blades, nor anything else could he make to work.
Told you so. If I can't do it, how can a nine-year-old kid?
I had to leave him to it, the guts of Letty's* pumpkin still needing curettage. From time to time Stevie* would call me back to tell him what I thought of new nail-removal ideas. Nope, nope, nope. I'd return to the kitchen, and he kept at it in the front hall.
But then: "Kate! I've got it!" Huh? I ran out to see.
"See?" Stevie* showed me. "You put the end of the pry bar here, and you hammer it in around the nail like this-- " BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! "--and it can come out!" Squee-squee-squee!! What a beautiful goshawful noise! By golly, the kid was right! "My dad showed me how to do that! I just remembered! He does it like that all the time!"
He did another, and another. I showed him how to insert the blade of a putty knife between the pry bar and the wood so the jamb wouldn't get dented, and how to finish the extraction with the nail puller, which ditto.
And he merrily went around the house removing the old vinyl trim nails from the piano windows as far as he could reach.
Then he swiped the high step stool out from under his sister in the kitchen, and set up shop under one of the high windows next to the living room fireplace. Fine with me-- she can use the one-stepper to finish carving her pumpkin. I got the stool safely placed and showed him how if he opened the bottom sash he could get at the nails more easily.
And again left him to it.
So now here's nearly half the stubborn nails removed from three out of five of my piano windows; if Stevie* didn't do the others, it's because he couldn't get at them. And thanks to a kid whose dad is an inveterate remodeller, I've got the technique to get the rest of them out of my jambs and out of my life! Hooray!!!
After that, both Stevie* and Letty* went in the front hall and stripped wallpaper. If they hadn't had to go home for supper, they'd likely be at it still.
Hannah* says when I'm ready, they'll all come and we'll have a wallpaper stripping party. Fun unlimited!