My daughter Geneva is now in her teens, but back when she was a peanut-allergic kid in her prime trick-or-treat years, Halloween presented a tricky challenge.
How were we to wrestle her hard-earned nutty goodies away without a pitched battle? Somehow, our heartfelt “it’s for your own good” speech was always lost on her, and tears would make little paths through her face makeup.
We needed a plan. And so, the Great Pumpkin came to the rescue. It was a fine tale I concocted, an allergic cross between the famous Charles Schulz pumpkin patch tale and the Easter Bunny.
In my version, a large, orange benefactor visits children with nut and peanut allergies each Halloween. On Halloween night, Mom and Dad would leave all the nut-tainted candy in a bag in the front hall, and the Great Pumpkin, pleased with this sacrifice, would leave a gift in its place.
A tradition was born, and it was a good thing, as Geneva and her younger sister Paris didn’t eat their own weight in candy. Instead, they would receive a puzzle or a movie.
The Great Pumpkin, of course, grew fat at her desk at the office, which wasn’t so good, but let’s move along, shall we, to the year of the orange one’s near miss ….
It was the Halloween of 2003, a brutally cold, wind-howling Canadian prairie evening in Saskatoon, with temperatures plunging to -25 degrees C (-13 degrees F).
Geneva was dressed as a punk rocker with fuzzy purple earmuffs to match her purple hair (it was just too cold to be cool), and Paris was dressed up as a leopard (basically a spotted snowsuit). My husband Bruce was dashing as a green-skinned demon with red horns.
I stayed home to dole out treats, while the kids and my husband headed out, returning after just 45 minutes with an astonishingly large bag of goodies .
We read all the labels, culled the offending candies and at the end, hung a hefty sack inside on the front doorknob for the Great Pumpkin. The kids trundled off to bed. And so did we.
In the morning, Geneva came bounding into our room in tears. “Mom, the Great Pumpkin didn’t come last night!”
Ack! I knew I had forgotten something when I turned off the lights the night before. Blinking the sleep from my eyes, I tried to think quickly.
“Oh, dear. That’s my fault, sweetie, I locked the door last night and … he couldn’t get in. I usually leave the door open on Halloween so he can come inside.”
Geneva looked crestfallen. By now her sister had also shuffled into our room. Geneva relayed the bad news. Paris’s face fell.
“You know, I bet he left your present with our pumpkins on the front step,” I said. “Why don’t you girls go get dressed in some warm clothes and we’ll go outside and look.” The kids dashed to their rooms. “Wear lots and lots of clothes!” I yelled.
Next: By the skin of a pumpkin’s teeth
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I elbowed Bruce in the ribs. “Quick. We don’t have much time!”
I rushed to the kitchen, retrieved from its hiding spot the Barbie: Swan Lake movie the dratted Great Pumpkin was supposed to leave, and handed it to Bruce, who stuffed it under his shirt.
I made sure the kids were still in their rooms as Bruce quietly opened the front door.
By the time the girls had arrived at the front landing, Bruce was sitting innocently on the couch. I ushered them outside, and heard a great whoop of joy as Geneva and Paris came dashing in with their prize.
“He came!” Geneva bellowed.
Paris chanted: “Barbie Swan Lake! Barbie Swan Lake! Barbie Swan Lake!”
They settled in front of the TV, and Bruce and I padded into the kitchen to start breakfast.
“That was close,” said Bruce.
“Too close,” I replied.
And thus, a near disaster was averted and the Great Pumpkin lived to make another appearance.
But did I learn from my mistake? Not quite. One day I accidentally “locked out” the tooth fairy. It’s a good thing I think fast on my feet.
Michelle Houlden is a journalist and illustrator who lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.