Joyce Whitis

I did my patriotic duty on the Fourth. I ate half a watermelon. It was a seedless melon, developed by a clever farmer north of Abilene. I bought it at Littlejohn’s and after chilling it overnight and cutting it open, the first bite was rewarding as always.

Watermelons and July fit together for me like butter and biscuits. The Stone Mountain, dark green outer skin, deep red inside, studded with black seed, was a staple in my childhood diet during the growing season. Watermelon slicing at my grandmother’s August birthday party was an event as well. The Chandlers were all farmers except Uncle Harris who opted to become a barber and live in the city, to the absolute wonderment of us all. Every uncle except that one city dude, raised watermelons as well as practically everything else his wife put on the dining table. There was pride in growing the biggest melon for Mommy’s birthday bash.

“Just look at that melon of Alvie’s!”

“I’ll bet it weighs 50 pounds!”

“Get out the cotton scales”

One such melon could feed a thrashing crew and crowd-wise that’s what Mommy’s parties looked like. They were great celebrations for me and my cousins. I don’t remember ever whining about being bored. We cooked up a game of pasture ball or lined up to climb on the barn and jump off the roof or chose sides for red rover. And when we were exhausted, there was a slice of watermelon waiting.

One spring, Daddy set aside five acres of his best farmland and told my brother that would be his to raise watermelons for sale. Austin stuck seed in the ground from melons that had grown to an admirable size on our place. He cultivated the little hills with a hoe and fertilized them with manure from the cow lot. When the seed sprouted and young vines spread across the ground, he wouldn’t let a weed grow there and carried water from the house to water his melon patch.

I took interest in the crop and watched as the melons grew from the size of my thumb to syrup bucket size. One melon set out to outdo the others. From the beginning, it was the biggest and it grew and grew until we thought that it might set a world record. Austin checked it every day to see if the curl next to the stem was turning brown, a signal that the melon was ripe and done growing but it remained a bright green. Other melons in the patch ripened and I went with him to peddle them door to door, selling them for a quarter, or a dime, depending upon size.

One day, the giant of the watermelon patch started to take on a yellowish color. When Austin turned it over, someone had cut a square through the rind and into the meat, causing it to rot. Ants had already found the ruined inside.

Tall poles crossed our place, carrying lines that brought electricity to city folks although we depended upon coal oil lamps and wood stoves in the country. The path those high lines took was walked by employees of the power company on a regular basis and apparently one of those workers had taken a shine to our big melon and plugged it. Seeing that it wasn’t ripe, he had left it to rot in the field.

Other than that, the patch of melons proved to be profitable that summer. With part of the money he made, Austin bought a blue and white hounds’ tooth sport coat.

Sometimes I get out the 67-year-old photograph of him in that coat, big smile on his sunburned face. In the next picture, he’s still smiling but wearing the uniform of the United States Army Air Force. Austin flew 65 missions over Italy and Germany, and came back from the war but he never planted anymore watermelon seeds. Both our lives moved on happily and that’s why on the Fourth of July I do my patriotic duty and remember it all with a slice of cold watermelon.