by  Carl Baumann,  BHS '43

For a few years the most exciting thing about Halloween, next to getting even with nasty neighbors, was the annual pumpkin-stealing caper... One of my third-grade classmates at Franklin School knew of a whole field full of pumpkins at a nearby farm which were practically pleading to be picked,  before they rotted away in the season's first frost due in a few days... Since they were doomed anyway, no one would mind if we took a few, thereby saving them from a useless fate.

Three of us planned an expedition to the farm for right after school that same day. A westerly trek through about a mile of dense woodland would bring us to the rear end of the New Milford Farm, where the pumpkins were planted between the already harvested rows of corn. The farmhouse (& the farmer)  were about another mile farther west, providing a margin of safety, should it be needed.

The line of trees and underbrush behind us provided good camouflage as we broke out into the open farmland. --- but what's this?.. A human figure stood between us and the distant farmhouse. We studied it carefully from our hidden position, and when it hadn't moved for serveral minutes we ventured forth to test its identity.  "Hallooo!" we called out, waving our arms in greeting. It didn't answer, It didn't wave back. It didn't move. It was a scarecrow!..

So into the field we went, scurrying from pumpkin to pumpkin, till each of us had found his ideal in size and shape. Then quickly we ran back to the cover of woods and hiked home, happily slowed by the burden of our booty.

In answer to parental queries at home, we each claimed the pumpkins to be gifts from the garden of one of the other parents, the ones least known to our own. "They were soon to rot anyway..." It was a half-truth, the rotting part, and much the lesser half.

Stealing seemed such fun, as do many venial sins, especially when one doesn't quite yet know any better. But its pleasures didn't square with  what I'd been learning in Sunday School, nor with the scrupulously honest examples set by my parents... But lying, especially to one's parents, was another matter. I already knew that was bad, and I felt bad about it, but not bad enough to not enjoy my beautiful pumpkin, stolen as it was.

What most fascinated me about pumpkins, beside hollowing them out and carving in scary or funny faces, was that one could also light a fire in them, "fire" being the operative word in my fascination. It was only a candle, but the result was so dramatic -- a lesson in economy of design... How better could one receive back so much in "special effects" from one small candle?

The following year, the word of our previous success having spread, our pumpkin-pilfering party doubled in size... Emerging from the woods with a perfunctory "Hi" to the scarecrow, we quickly went about our thievery... But as we re-entered the woods with our haul there was a distant shouting, from the direction of the farmer's house. We didn't wait to hear what it was about --- we thought we knew , and quickened our steps towards home.

In our third and final year, the raiding party, now a small army of juvenile thieves, didn't even bother to test-hail the scarecrow, and proceeded directly into the pumpkin plunder... The "scarecrow," shotgun in hand, began yelling at us, his yells soon overpowered by a loud, double-barreled Ka-bam! Bam!  followed by the fearsome sound of buckshot whistling overhead and hitting the trees behind us... We amazed ourselves at how fast, and for how long, we could run non-stop through those dense woods, pumpkin-less and terror-stricken, all the way home.

That was the end of pumpkin thievery, and thievery in general, at least for me.. On the positive side, upon arriving safely home from that final caper, my thought was, Well, we hadn't actually stolen anything so I wouldn't have to lie about it!
Surely this was an ethical advance, however enforced by circumstance...

Shortly thereafter, upon youthful reflection, I decided that stealing would have to be a no-no. But was this perception motivated by the desire for good, or by a fear of punishment?.. I'm still working on that!

Carl Baumann - BHS '43 - 1995 

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