Ghost Pumpkins

St. John the Baptist Cemetery, Edgard, Louisiana

With Halloween right around the corner, I feel like I should post something spooky. Showing a picture of an ancient, decaying headstone bearing the name I used for three-quarters of my life feels pretty spooky. (I went by Anne Mialaret until husband Tim and I married roughly twelve years ago.)

That grave belongs to the immediate family of my great-great-grandfather, Antonin Mialaret, who died in 1884. I found his grave marker, as well as the grave of my great-grandfather, Prosper, when I went upriver to visit the Whitney Plantation. I wrote about the experience last January. Discovering my ancestors’ connection to the owners of that plantation was not spooky, but sobering. And shameful.

Prior to that visit, my knowledge of Antonin Mialaret consisted of a photocopied genealogy that belonged to my father. I specifically remember a line in that photocopy, about Antonin Mialaret possessing a talent for retaining trivial (i.e. useless) knowledge. I have not been able to find anything online to back it up, but I stand by that claim, because I think retention of useless knowledge is hardwired into my genetic makeup.

To wit: ghost pumpkins. It being fall, and close to Halloween, I’ve been thinking about ghost pumpkins. They sound pretty spooky, right? While I like to think they contain the spirits of Halloweens past, they’re really just white pumpkins, whose skin lacks the orange pigment of their more ubiquitous siblings.

Here’s where the useless knowledge comes in: I can’t think of ghost pumpkins without thinking of Pavilions, a supermarket chain in Southern California. In the late ’90s, while I was living in Los Angeles, Pavilions used to run radio ads featuring a raspy-voiced woman. The ad I remember the most was the one promoting their ghost pumpkins. The woman sounded like Sally Kellerman, but there was this quality of sadness to these radio spots that didn’t quite match my image of Sally Kellerman.

And when I say sad, I mean you’d almost want to change the station when these spots came on, so you wouldn’t start blubbering on your way to work. Or the grocery. Or for whatever reason you happened to be in your car.

I can’t tell you exactly what was so sad about the ghost pumpkins at Pavilions. I think it was a combination of the music and the woman’s voice. And the ad copy might have said something about the pumpkins being lonely.

More about the spooky Mialaret capacity for useless knowledge: brother Jerry also lived in Southern California in the late ’90s. We, in fact, would talk about the sad ghost pumpkin commercials back then, in real-time. But it wasn’t until now, twenty years later, that we solved the mystery of the voiceover. From a conversation just a few days ago (because, yes, Mialarets will talk about decades-old radio ads, or Interstate signs seen in Texas forty years ago, or something a neighbor might have said fifty years ago):

Me: I always thought it was Sally Kellerman doing those voiceovers.

Jerry: No. You know who it was? It was the woman who played Harm’s mother on JAG. (Several Mialarets were big fans of JAG).

Me: OK. I’m on it. We’re going to find some YouTube clips for confirmation.

Believe it or not, “Pavilions radio spots from the 1990s” was not a well-used search term. But a bit of digging confirmed that the actress Christina Pickles voiced those radio ads. She did indeed play Harmon Rabb’s mother on JAG, but I knew her as Monica and Ross’s mom on Friends. And I found a YouTube clip of her talking about playing a sorceress in the 1987 “He-Man” movie, where she first met Courteney Cox. I listened with my eyes closed, and a tear came to my eye as I imagined her opining on the loneliness of ghost pumpkins.

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