When I was a kid, someone would give my mother a pumpkin. Presumably around October. That would make sense. Could be this person wanted us to have a jack-o-lantern for Halloweenie. I don’t remember who brought us this pumpkin. A relative? A family friend? I’m sure someone who knew my mother was divorced, relatively new in town, had four children, the youngest a baby the father had never met because he cut out before she was born. I’m sure whoever gave us this pumpkin every year knew we lived on Welfare and that my mother received no alimony or child support. (No one knew where my father was. He apparently got fed up with everyone. He not only cut out, and he cut himself off from everyone. For years. Today, I understand why. Oh, believe me, I understand why.)
My mother survived polio as a toddler, so she was handicapped. In those days they used the word “crippled”. She had a skinny leg and her afflicted foot was permanently on tiptoe. She always wore heels since she couldn’t place that one foot flat on the floor. (When her feet hurt from wearing those heels, she’d remove only the shoe on her healthy foot. She’d rather walk like that, bobbing up and down around the house, than wear orthopedic shoes.) Although she was born in California, my grandparents moved to Mexico in 1931, when my mother was seven. So, my mother didn’t speak English when I was a small child. She returned to the States to visit relatives in New Mexico, where she met my dad and they got buried. I mean, married. She was twenty-five and he was twenty-three.
We didn’t carve out a jack-o-lantern with that pumpkin someone gave us every year when I was a little kid. My mother cooked it and we ate it. Sometimes she’d make empanadas. Mmmm, I love empanadas. As an adult, I learned that there are different types of empanadas. Growing up, I only knew them made with pumpkin. Empanadas, in fact, were one of our traditional holiday foods. I’ve never had any other kind of empananda. I keep saying one of these days I’m going to try one of those other types, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I think I’ll make it a point to do that soon. Hell, maybe even this afternoon, since I’ve got errands to run and I’ll be out and about later on. Geezus, I live in the Mission District. There are Argentinan, Peruvian, Chiliano and all kinds of places around here that make their own versions of empanadas.
“Sugar pumpkin is best for cooking and baking. The pumpkins used to carve out jack-o-lanterns have more water and are very stringy.” I read that in some article recently. It’s true, sugar pumpkins cook up nicely. But if you have a pumpkin leftover from Halloween that didn’t get carved into a jack, you can cook and eat it. Every year Erick puts a pumpkin out front at the end of October. The first year we lived here, he told my son he wished he could do something with it instead of just throwing it out. My son told him, “Give it to my mom. She’ll probably turn into empanadas.” I do. Breads, pies, and cookies too. Not all on the same day, of course. My son wants me to look up pumpkin recipes and try some new recipes too. I might do that. I always cook the pumpkin and freeze it in portions. It lasts right through the spring, and sometimes into summer. I made pumpkin bread a couple weeks ago. Mmmm, that was tasty.
Last week I had to go dog-sit for the weekend for my daughter. On Friday, she made pumpkin cornbread. She made cinnamon butter to go with it. It was delicious.
Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,
had a wife and couldn’t keep her.
He put her in a pumpkin shell,
and there he kept her very well.
I loved that Mother Goose rhyme when I was a kid. I thought, “How cool to live in a pumpkin shell!” Then as an adult I read some feminist criticism blasting this and other nursery rhymes, giving me a different perspective. My life experience has taught me that it isn’t only husbands and boyfriends who want to put a bitch in a “pumpkin shell”. There are plenty of others who want to relegate a bitch to a place they think is right for her. I’ve run into some. But I only got two words for them. Well, make that four. “Good-bye” are two of them.