You may have heard tales about the O’Leary clan or the O’Keefe family or whispers about the mysterious O’Higgins mob, but nary a soul dares to mention the name O’Lantern. That is, until Halloween is in the air.
By now, you’ve tried-on your costumes, practiced your Trick or Treat and checked your flashlight’s batteries. Some of you may have already carved faces into your pumpkins, but few know the real story behind that two-tooth smile. Just so happens I do. And I’m willing to share for the mere promise of a treat. Sit down a spell, fill up on new vocabulary words and sharpen your imagination.
O’Lantern was a respectable enough name until four hundred years ago in Ireland, when Margaret and James had their first son and named him Jack.
Jack, by all accounts was a horrible boy. He bullied his classmates and sassed his teachers. He pulled his sister’s hair and gobbled up all his little brother’s after-school snacks. Jack had eaten so many treats that his teeth rotted, leaving only two crooked ones left in his head. And since no one stopped him from being the awfullest he could be, Jack was sure he could live his life just as he pleased. He even began stealing.
One night when the full moon poked a hole in the blackened sky, Jack stole the last coins from his mother’s purse. “Better to buy treats for me than milk for my family.” He said with a grin.
The next day, with his school bag heavy with healthy foods his mom had made, he snuck off to a sweet-shop. While Jack was busy filling his pie-hole with candy corn and gummy worms, a goblin named Seamus watched and waited.
Goblins are greedy, but not very interested in sweets. They prefer cash. It drove Seamus half-mad that Jack had already spent his money. There were lots of mean goblin ways to make Jack suffer and Seamus had a good one in mind. Happily, goblins aren’t very bright and while they possess magical powers, they also have a weakness. Like most ignorant creatures, they’re scared stiff of knowledge. Goblins are so frightened of learning, that they freeze solid in one spot whenever they come across a teachable moment.
In a wink, Seamus commanded the wind to lift Jack high into the air till the poor lad’s feet dangled over a tree top. “I don’t care a piffle that you bully and steal or that you break your mother’s heart, but I want what I want. If you don’t bring me money, I’ll take off your head.” Now, Jack may have been dreadful, but he was quite clever. He used his sweetest voice to convince the goblin. “I know where there’s a pot of gold. If you stay here, deep inside the branches till I return, I’ll bring it to you.”
While Seamus twiddled his thumbs, Jack climbed down the tree, shook out his homework assignments and a glue stick from his book bag. As quick as he could, he pasted the multiplication table onto the trunk. Under that, he attached a copy of the Magna Carta and a poem by Swift. “Try and get me now.” Jack called out.
When Seamus saw all that math, history and beautifully written English, he began to freeze. Unfortunately, he had one last trick up his chilly goblin-sleeve; Seamus was a convincing liar. “I can still have your head, Jack, even if I’m frozen, in a tree or with one hand tied behind my back!”
“Let’s cut a deal,” Jack offered. “I’ll take down my homework if I can keep my head.”
Now, I may have said Jack was clever but I’ve never called him wise. Just as Jack peeled off the last page, Seamus, defrosted and angry as a rattle snake, slithered down the tree. “Don’t you know, Jack O’Lantern, you can’t deal with the Devil? On the anniversary of this day and for all eternity, you’re doomed to walk the earth without your head. Instead, you’ll have a big round gourd and I’ll leave that two-tooth mouth of yours just for spite.”
And even now, when the frost is on the pumpkin and October has seen its last day, children everywhere are given chocolates and lollipops, pretzels and chips, but they never share any of their treats with their jack-o-lanterns.
Now you know the real story. Have a happy Halloween, but remember; no unwrapped treats, brush your teeth before bedtime and don’t believe everything you read.