GAINESVILLE — In some families, newborn members have their names inscribed in the family Bible. But descendants of Robert and Marrell Smith get a pumpkin carved in their honor.
Since 1980, the Gainesville family has gathered and carved pumpkins with their ever-growing brood of grandchildren. They have carved one pumpkin per grandchild ever since their first granddaughter’s first Halloween, in a tradition much like a Christmas family gathering, complete with a feast of a home-cooked meal, competitive family games and family singing accompanied by Marrell Smith on the piano.
This year, the Smiths carved seven pumpkins: five for their granddaughters and two for their great-grandchildren. This year’s pumpkin-carving party was a surprise for Marrell Smith, who thought the family tradition had ended with the marriage of the last grandchild.
"I thought after the last granddaughter got married we wouldn’t do it anymore, because they would have their own family," Smith said.
Nonetheless, her five granddaughters, ranging in age from 24 to 28 years old, showed up on Smith’s porch on Friday with their pumpkins and the two great-grandchildren.
"I was shocked to death," Marrell Smith said. "I was proud that they wanted to continue the carving, because of the great-grandchildren now that will be coming along."
The family pumpkin carving tradition has been around since Marrell Smith was a child.
When she was younger, Marrell Smith’s father raised pumpkins. And every year at Halloween, he and her mother carved the pumpkins with Marrell and her nine other siblings.
"I loved doing it, and I (saw) the closeness of the family when I was a child and I (saw) what it took to hold a family together."
When Marrell Smith and her husband Robert had their two children, Donald and Cathy, they started their own pumpkin carving tradition based on Marrell’s childhood one."I just decided to follow my raising and it worked," Marrell Smith said.
Once Donald and Cathy married, Robert and Marrell Smith stopped the carving tradition, but resumed it when the first granddaughter, Natalie McGarvey, a teacher at Fair Street Elementary School, turned 1 in 1980.
"Every time somebody had a baby we did a pumpkin, which was just about every year," Marrell Smith said.
Marrell Smith would buy the pumpkins, corral the family and cook a meal for the yearly tradition. The family would get together and play games and sing while Smith played the piano.
"We’d just have fun," Smith said.
Marrell Smith said the pumpkin tradition, among some of the other family traditions, like traveling to the beach together every year, is partly responsible for the closeness of her family and the success of her granddaughters who have grown to be school teachers, stay-at-home mothers and businesswomen.
"We’re just so proud of our family, they’re good girls," Marrell Smith said. "This is something for grandmama to brag about."
This year, Marrell Smith did not have the chance to cook a meal or buy the pumpkins. Her grown granddaughters ordered pizza, instead. Smith said she is just happy that her granddaughters wanted to continue the family tradition.
"I have been just so excited that they wanted to do that," MarrellSmith said.
"We’ve just got a big happy family over here," MarrellSmith said. "I’m just so happy and thankful that our family is close, that they want to do things with their grandparents."