I sliced up a delicious cantaloupe for dinner tonight as a side dish to my summer veggie omelet. Every time I eat cantaloupe or watermelon, I’m reminded of my Pawpaw King. After he retired from the Standard Oil Co (today’s Exxon), he started a huge garden that took up acres on our property. He grew everything. We ate mounds of veggies all summer long and spent hours shelling peas, shucking corn and picking fruits and veggies for the freezer in the winter. I got so sick of fresh produce. I remember complaining about all the vegetables all the time, and Momma would tell me one day I would appreciate it. I didn’t see how. What I didn’t know is that not everybody had the gift of fresh vegetables, and that’s all we ever had. I never even touched the store-bought stuff until I got out on my own. And, she was right. I would love to have all of those veggies in my back yard now.
He grew all of that stuff for us, but his favorite space in the garden was where he grew his melons. He grew watermelons and cantaloupe. We called cantaloupe mushmelons. We ate our mushmelons with salt and pepper, and our watermelons with salt. Pawpaw was obsessed with watermelons. We ate them twice a day in the summertime. We had a picnic table between our house and theirs, and we had watermelon in the heat of the afternoon and after dinner. On some occasions, we’d cut a third one, too. And if anybody came over, we’d definitely cut a watermelon. We were always icing melons because you know you can’t eat them at room temperature.
I can still see those watermelon feasts as plain as day. Pawpaw was skinny, skinny and super high energy. Nobody in our family is skinny. But, he was always doing something, and I imagine he burned calories like a furnace. He would wrap his arms around a watermelon and lug it over to the picnic table while we waited for him to cut it. He had a big fat butcher knife, and he’d stab the melon with it. He’d exclaim how pretty it was or be disappointed that it was not ripe. He had plenty so if it wasn’t ripe, we wouldn’t waste time eating it. He’d just get another. After he cut it most of the way, he’d open it up with his hands leaving jagged edges on the sides that weren’t sliced with a knife. No matter how many times we ate watermelon, he always reacted with an expression that made me think he was seeing a watermelon for the first time. When I buy watermelons today, I still feel there’s a great mystery to getting a good one, and I slice it with eager anticipation to see if it’s a good one or one that’s not ripe. I don’t have a garden with plenty of melons. so it’s a huge disappointment if it’s not a good one. I usually ask the produce guy to pick me a ‘good ‘un’. Pawpaw would probably faint at the price of melons today.
After he’d cut it, he’d slice it into quarters the long way and then slice it again into 8ths. We’d take our butter knives and eat our slice, flicking off seeds and spitting them across the yard. He always told us if we swallowed them, we’d grow watermelons in our stomach. We had our container of Morton salt on the table for handy use. We didn’t use plates or napkins of any kind, and I remember having watermelon juice all over my arms and legs by the end of such a feast. As I got older and more persnickety, that’s the part I hated the most. I didn’t want to get the sticky juice all over me. But, Pawpaw didn’t care. He loved his watermelons, and he could not understand …. and probably didn’t even trust … anyone who didn’t like watermelons.
Once summer got started, Pawpaw would head up to Washington Parish in Louisiana to get a load of watermelons. Washington Parish is famous for its watermelons, and Pawpaw appreciated them enough that he’d make the drive with a little trailer and buy a whole trailer load. Some years he’d make the trip more than once. I imagine he loved talking to the farmers up there about their melons. In the summertime, he never went on any long trip without a trunk-load or a trailer load of his favorite sweet snack. My brothers and sisters and I still laugh about the long trips we’d take to Destin in the summer. Today, the drive is shorter, but back then, there were no interstate highways, and, of course the speed limits were lower. He’ d drive about 35 miles an hour the whole way because he was worried about his watermelons. He’d pull off on the side of the road frequently because he had to ‘shift’ the watermelons. It took us forever to get to the beach, but we damned sure had our watermelons for snacks when the day got long and hot.
My second husband loved watermelons, too. He laughed at me with my salt on my watermelon. And, he would eat small servings. I’d cut my 8th slice and sit down to eat it. and He’d tease me because I was making a pig out of myself. I’ve seen people slice them in round slices. It somehow seems sacrilegious for me not to cut it the same way Pawpaw did. Besides, there’s not the suspense and the ‘pop’ of the melon that precludes the peek inside of that beautiful red fruit. Pawpaw would take a bite of every melon and go on and on about how sweet it was. I used to think that some were sweet and some weren’t, but for some reason, ours were always sweet. I still look for the ones that aren’t sweet. I’ve never really found one. I think Pawpaw just loved the sweetness of that ruby red fruit so much that when it hit the tip of his tongue he was elated every single time.
I don’t buy watermelons all the time now. With one person in the house, they go bad too quickly. But, at least once a summer, I have to buy one. I have to admit when I moved into this house and walked out the squeaky screen door and saw my picnic table, I immediately thought it would be a great place to eat a watermelon. When I do buy them, I invite Pawpaw to have them with me. He always obliges. I have to cut it, but I hear him as clear as day exclaiming, ‘It’s so sweet!’ And I giggle as I slide that salted chilled fruit past my teeth and drip watermelon juice down my arm. This one’s for you, Pawpaw. 🙂