Sam Elmore


According to my American Heritage Dictionary, a jack-o'-lantern is: "a lantern made from a hollowed pumpkin with a carved face". The second entry describes a jack-o'-lantern as: "an ignis fatuus or similar phenomenon". The dictionary goes on to say that: ignis fatuus (Med. Lat. for "foolish fire") is "a phosphorescent light that hovers or flits over swampy ground at night."

Okay---if they SAY so. What the dictionary ought to say, but don't is that: "....them things'll scare you out of ten years of growth, if ye' ain't careful!"

In my family, we grew up calling the things "jack-o'-lanterns".....prob'ly because we didn't know how to say "a spontaneous combustion of gases emitted by rotting organic matter." I'm pretty sure that not one of my clan would know an "ignis fatuus" (by that handle) if it jumped up and sat in their lap; which is just about what happened!

Abour twelve lustrums ago, Papa Abb and four or five of his oldest off-spring planned to help a neighbor pick his cotton; the plan was that the neighbor would come get them in his truck about daylight. Daylight came and went, but no truck. Papa decided they would start walking in the direction of the field, and the man could pick them up along the way. They walked as far as the road...still no truck.

"Wa'al, he jes' overslept, that's all. We'll walk on over to the Plez Willis place...the truck ought to get there by then."

They arrived, but the truck didn't. Papa was somewhat peeved by that time, because they were s'posed to be paid something like twenty-five-cents-a-hundred for the cotton they picked, and they were "wasting daylight".

"Forget about the dad-gum truck!", Papa said, "Let's jest walk on over to the field. We'll have over two hundred pounds of cotton picked by the time that feller gets out-a bed."

They crested the top of the hill above the Methodist Church, and walked down the steep grade. Papa was anxious for the truck to get there, because he didn't fancy walking past the graveyard, yonder by the church. At the bottom of the hill, a spring branch crossed through a culvert under the road. One of the kids asked:

"Papa, what's 'at down yonder?"

A jack-o'-lantern about the size of a cantaloupe rose up in the middle of the road, and hovered above the culvert.

"Wa'al, we might jest as well walk on back up yonder to Plez's", Papa ventured.

"'s gettin' bigger, ain't it?", asked one of the girls, sort of quivery-like, as she stared at that ball of fire. By that time, it had grown to the size of a number-two wash-tub.

"Awww, there ain't no need of us walkin' all the way over to that cotton field," Papa opined, "The dew's prob'ly too heavy to start pickin' anyhow."

They all had their twelve-foot-long cotton sacks hanging from their shoulders, with the length of the sacks folded up and shoved down inside, sort-of like a book-sack.

"PAPA! Look at it NOW!"

The jack-o'-lantern was now as big as a smoke-house, and GROWING!

Nobody recalls who it was that started the stampede, but Papa took off up the hill, with his long cotton-sack blooming straight out behind him. As he passed his youngest daughter, he was heard to say:

"Ever'-body for they OWN-se'f!"