The snow had turned into a gray slush, and patches of matted grass were appearing on the front lawn.
I was sweeping a winter’s worth of grit out of the garage and down the driveway. It would probably end up back in the garage, but hope springs eternal.
Steven was poking at the remaining snow with a stick, and his pants were wet well above the tops of his Power Ranger boots.
“Dad! I found something!” he said with excitement in his voice. He was half sitting in a knee-busting crouch that little kids can manage, but would send me in search of the Advil.
Snowmelt time at our house is kind of like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates -- you never know what you’re going to get, and in the past it had explained the disappearance of two Frisbees, a Tonka dump truck, a five iron and a garden hose.
An orange patch was peeking through where Steven was digging.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Ummm … I think it’s our jack-o-lantern,” I said, mentally doing the math: was it four months ago? Maybe closer to five. I vaguely remembered moving the pumpkin off the porch so I could clear an early November snowfall. At the time I expected the snow to melt, and we’d have a while longer to enjoy Halloween.
That’s not how a Minnesota winter works.
Time had not been kind to our jack-o-lantern; it had turned mushy and started to cave in on itself. What had been a toothy ear-to-ear smile in October had become a wrinkled grimace.
It looked like one of the old guys who used to sit in the balcony and heckle “The Muppet Show.”
Steven used his stick to dig around the ancient pumpkin. He tried to lift it, and the three inches of vine still attached to the cap came off in his hand.
He eventually freed the bowling ball-sized jack-o-lantern and held it protectively to his chest.
“Can I keep it?” he asked hopefully.
“No, it’s all icky,” I said.
With a catch in his voice and a look normally reserved for his teddy bear, he said “But this is my favorite pumpkin EVER!”
Three year olds get sentimental over unexpected things.
“Mine, too,” I said. “But we’ll make another jack-o-lantern next Halloween.”
His eyes brimmed with tears, so I quickly added “Should we go inside and have some cookies?”
It’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned about parenting: if you don’t have anything profound or comforting to say, suggest cookies.
He smiled a big, toothy smile and dropped the pumpkin, which landed with a wet thud.
I tossed the jack-o-lantern on the composting pile when he wasn’t looking.
I just hope the snow keeps melting. I haven’t seen my rake since November.
Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.