I am truly thankful for the rain that fell on Pine Grove this afternoon. We sat and watched as giant drops fell to a thirsty earth, but rain fell faster than the ground could soak it up. It’s been a while since we saw puddles in the yard. Before it completely stopped, Larry and I went out to check out our gardens. Everything was beautiful, appearing fresh and cool and new. When we surveyed the watermelons, they seemed to have grown during the downpour. We could hardly believe our eyes. There’s no longer a need to push aside the leaves to look for them. They’ve gotten big enough to push aside the leaves themselves.
To understand our excitement, you must understand that we come from a long line of watermelon lovers. My father was one of the biggest and I mean that in both senses of the word. Daddy was a big man, about 6’2", and often he’d bring in a big dark green watermelon when he came home from work. We stopped everything and cut it on the spot, practically drooling over the melon’s heart when Mama’s butcher knife revealed it. One half of the melon went to Daddy; the other half Mama and I shared. Mama and I always had leftovers, but not Daddy. He sat with his salt and fork until every single bite disappeared. My poor sister did not like watermelon, still doesn’t. I feel sorry for all she’s missed over the past sixty years. If we didn’t look so much alike, I’d swear she was adopted. There’s no better food out there than a ripe red watermelon.
As my children were growing up, the tradition continued. We hit a snag for a while there though. When Josh saw a watermelon filled with seeds, he commented, “Nasty bugs!” It took us a while to convince him to try it, but he was an instant convert. Any summer gathering in the South requires watermelon.
How well I remember all the seed spitting contests we had with the Cub Scouts, especially the summer someone donated fifty watermelons to Day Camp. We have pictures of all those boys holding big slices with both hands, juice dripping down their chins and elbows. We hosed ours off before we let them in the car. What fun!
Last week as another generation sat at my kitchen table eating slices of watermelon, I finally understood that by the slice is the best way to eat this luscious fruit. Sarah Nell brought us our first melon when the boys came to visit last week. She doesn’t like it, but she likes us and knows how much we like it. Since boys and watermelon equal a mess, I served them melon balls in bowls. They ate it of course, but when a friend brought us a half melon Friday morning, the boys said, “Grandma, can we eat it in slices? We like it better that way.”
And so we did. I gave them generous slices on big plates to catch some of the juice. I put Will’s bib on him, and handed them spoons. Soon the juices were flowing freely and sweetly. Larry took pictures to add to our collection of watermelon photos. I cut myself a slice, got the salt, and sat at the table with them. I’d worry about the floor after the boys finished. Inevitably some juice would wind up there. When we’d all finished, our final job was cleaning up the mess, and that included Will, our two-year-old grandson. The older boys had done pretty well, considering. Will had juice in his hair, all over his face and shirt, and even on his legs. When we pulled the shirt over his head, a watermelon seed peeked out of his belly button.
As I mopped the floor, I reflected on the fine art of eating watermelon. On an ordinary June day we had rediscovered it. Maybe it’s just all that southern blood in the boys’ veins. After all, every Southerner is born knowing how.