Family pumpkin display helps the greater gourd
BY CARRIE NAPOLEON Post-Tribune correspondent October 28, 2013 5:42PM
The Barenie family creating a 37-pumpkin display for their front yard. All the pumpkins weigh more than 200 pounds and three are more than 900. It is an 11,500-pound display and includes the Lake County Fair 1st place pumpkin and the Indiana State Fair 2nd place gourd. | Shane Cleminson/For Sun-Times Media
Barenie Family Pumpkin Display
917 E. Miller St.
Lighted at dusk
Updated: December 1, 2013 7:26AM
GRIFFITH — No guts, no glory.
At least that is what I told myself Friday when I sat down with the Barenie family of Griffith to try carving one of the pumpkins for their annual giant pumpkin Halloween display.
This year 37 pumpkins, more than 11,500 pounds in total, will pay homage to Disney classics and some of the characters that will never be a display of their own, such as Scrooge McDuck.
Judy Barenie is the matriarch of pumpkin carving. She and her brother John Barenie grow the mammoth gourds, competing in weigh-offs and creating the annual display that has been a family tradition since some time in the 1990s, though they are not sure exactly when.
John Barenie took first place at the Lake County Fair and second and the Indiana State Fair this year, in what he describes as an off-year for the really big pumpkins. The largest this year was a mere 932 pounds. Last year the biggest weighed more than 1,300 pounds.
Judy Barenie is responsible for teaching the tricks of the trade to each new generation of nieces and nephews. This year I was one of the newbies, the first “outsider” to take knife to gourd.
Judy sits on a small stool in front of one of the largest pumpkins in the display, somewhere around 700 pounds, carving a scene from Winnie the Pooh. I would be carving Pooh’s “Hunny” pot, she told me. My pumpkin was one of the smaller ones, at 75 to 100 pounds.
“We gave you one you can mess up and we can redo, so don’t worry,” Judy said before we started. Her nieces had already drawn what was to be carved on all of the pumpkins. She explained how they use a smaller tool to begin carving the stenciled design, then go back over the cut with a longer knife. It is important to make sure the cut goes all the way through and is wide enough for light to shine through.
She put me next to her, so she could keep an eye on me. Judy’s a perfectionist.
“I’m treating you like I would my nieces and nephews. It’s gotta be right,” she said.
Carefully I made the first incision, slowly cutting into the pumpkin to avoid any mistakes.
After I got started, my confidence grew and I was able to relax. It was a crisp afternoon and family members were coming and going working on the display, chatting with each other about their lives. It’s a massive undertaking. It takes the family more than a week to design the display, position the enormous gourds, draw the stencils and carve and light the pumpkins.
The whole time they are working on the display the stream of passersby grows. Throughout the afternoon, cars would slow down or stop as they passed the Miller Street home. The regular UPS driver hopped off his truck to ask when the display would be complete. He sees it every year.
Two other men stopped to ask if the carving was part of some contest. They had never been in the Griffith neighborhood before and were unaware of the family’s display. Judy said a school bus routinely drives by once the display is complete.
“People in Griffith really know about it,” she said.
The display is a cult classic drawing visitors from around the region. Nicole Duncanson-Hinojosa of Hammond and her sons Bryson, 5, and Tyler, 3, Hinojosa stopped by and chatted with Judy about carving tips.
Duncanson-Hinojosa said she had seen the finished display, but had not seen the family working on it. The boys were dazzled by the size of the pumpkins.
“They are so big,” Bryson said. He was looking for one with the image of Mickey Mouse, his favorite Disney character.
Judy said the family enjoys creating the display for the community to enjoy, but for the Barenies it is also about their family.
“It brings us together,” she said.
About three hours into my afternoon with the Barenies, a few additional pointers from Judy, I finished my pumpkin. I called out for a final inspection.
“Hey, that will actually stay in the display,” Judy said, sounding a little surprised. “But just to let you know, that was an easy one. We would have had it done in a half hour.”