Mr. Machalek lives in Fresh Meadows, next door to a family of recent Chinese immigrants, and they and his family are friendly despite the language barrier.
One October, two or three years ago, the Chinese family gave the Machaleks a present from their backyard garden around the same time the Machaleks brought a pumpkin home to prepare for Halloween. “It looked exactly like a pumpkin except it was green. It was the same shape, same size as the pumpkin we brought home,” said Mr. Machalek.
The Tale of the Green Jack-o’-Lantern
So when the family decided to carve up their orange pumpkin for Halloween, they eyed the green cousin. “We carved that one up, too. We took out all the insides and carved a little mouth and eyes and nose,” Mr. Machalek said.
They put the two jack-o’-lanterns outside, in front of their home. It was a day or so before the Chinese neighbors saw this. “We saw them pointing at it and laughing. We didn’t understand, so we started laughing, too. We asked them what was happening and they said: ‘No. No. No. Food. Food. Food.’ ”
The son in the family, who spoke English, explained to the Machaleks that it was a winter melon, and that Chinese people used them to make soup. (The winter melon, know as donggua (冬瓜) in Mandarin, is actually not a melon, but a type of squash.)
“We were embarrassed,” Mr. Machalek said. “We couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Oh no, I hope we didn’t offend them.’ ” But they left their winter melon and the pumpkin jack-o’-lanterns outside.
“They haven’t given us another one since,” he said.