The other day we went to the store and I could not believe my eyes; there were watermelons, $2.05 each, four or five large boxes full of them, take your pick two dollars and a nickel. Of course I went through the old, how to pick a ripe watermelon routine. Lets see if when you thump it, it sounds hollow, it is ripe. But then if you thump it and it sounds splat, then it is ripe. But if you push on the end, if it is soft it is ripe, or if the stem is dried up, it is ripe cause it quit growing. But then if you scrape a fingernail across the rind and it comes of easily, then it is ripe. But you look closely at the bottom and if it has a big yellow spot, then it is ripe. All my life I have been trying to find the real way to pick a good watermelon; and to date I have not found it.

The sure fire way to tell is plug them, but that was not a consideration these days. Anyhow I picked one by the hunch method. After I got home and when I stuck that long butcher knife into it and started to cut, it went riiiippppppppppp and I knew then it was ripe. All the previous tests I have used and with each have gotten a bad melon. Now I just look, perform all the tests and on gut instinct pick one, thus the hunch method. I pick one and take it cause I have a hunch it may be good.

Anyhow as I sat down with a big slab of cold watermelon and the saltshaker, I started thinking, first about that little watermelon stand in Roanoke, on Williamson Road, where we used to go on a hot night for a big slab of cold watermelon, for a quarter. And of course that set the old mind to reminiscing about watermelon when I was a boy.

A stake bed truck with Texas license plates would drive up and stop in front of Mrs. Bromena's general store and when you looked, it was filled with watermelons and straw to keep them from getting bruised. The man would climb up on the truck grab a melon and go into the store. Hot damn, free watermelon! For it was the first melons of the season and this is the way they were sold. The man would gets Mrs. Bromena, make a little small talk, then pull out a large butcher knife and split a melon, and cut a thin sliver off and offer it to her. She would taste it and then they would talk price and how many.

But first Mrs. Bromena had to tell him about all the bad, and green melons she got last year and how she ended up losing money cause she had to either give them another one or their money back. Of course the man would swear it was not he and he guaranteed all his melons, so all she had to do was keep track of green or bad ones and the next trip through he would make them good. Then they would haggle; finally settling on how many melons she would buy and how much she would pay. Funny thing about Mrs. Bromena, when you first met her you thought, now here is one ignorant woman. Wrong she was sharp as a tack and she usually did any scamming done around there! Sometimes, the truck would have both watermelons and cantaloupes, but for the first watermelons of the year it was just watermelons.

Now came the part for which I was standing waiting, and drooling. As soon as a deal was struck, the man would slice up the whole watermelon and then pass it out to anyone in the store. Of course he would say, "Now you eat this and go home and tell your folks that this store has the best Texas watermelons in the area."

At home when we got a watermelon, we would go around in the backyard and it was cut; normally into long slim pieces, and we just stood and ate, then threw the rinds over the fence into the chicken yard. One thing is our whole family like lots of salt on their watermelon, and all five of us like watermelon. But a lot of folks think you are crazy to put salt on it.

With that he would go out and unload ever how many they had decided on plus a few extras. The ones who had dealt with Mrs. Bromena before would add a few in case. Then the man would collect his money, and drive around to Mr. Garrett's and do the same thing. Then he would go on up or down Route 460 until his load was gone, then he was off back to Texas.

Now when you went to the store to buy a watermelon, in Montvale anyway, you looked them over and then they were plugged and you got to eat the plug to see if you wanted that melon or not. The proof was in the melon!

In the summers when I was staying with my Grandmother down at Camp Comfort, a little wide place in the road, On some Sundays in the summer one of her son's and their family would come visiting for Sunday dinner. Sometimes they would bring a big watermelon for my Grandmother always cooked a full meal for them. We did not have a refrigerator, but did have a small icebox; but it was way too small for a big watermelon. So they would usually bring a block of ice with them and the watermelon along with the block of ice was placed in a washtub full of water so it would get cold. My grandmother was very adept with an ice pick making ice cubes so the water would get colder. Then the tub was set in a cool shady place and a croaker sack was laid over the melon.

After we finished eating, all of us would go outside and the watermelon would be cut into long thin pieces and we would stand around and eat till we felt like we were going to pop. Afterwards we kids got to play with the left over ice for ice was a special thing for us back then.

Funny thing, poppa always had a great big garden, but I never remember him raising any watermelons or cantaloupes. Seems the soil was not conducive to good melons. Matter of fact only a few people around the valley raised any that I can remember. But maybe they did and did not advertise it so kids like me would not be stealing them. However, there was a man who lived up above Buford's mill who raised a good size patch and I think he did so all the kids in the area could have the fun of stealing watermelons.

His melons were not very large just small deep green ones. But if you got a ripe one, boy were they sweet. I remember one Sunday, Burr Giles and I got to talking about a good watermelon and Burr saw the man going to the Baptist church, so we high tailed it over to his place and got us two melons apiece. Heck since it was daylight it was easy to pick good ones. Anyway we walked about a half-mile then we sat on a bank, split them by banging them on the ground and savored sweet watermelon. The next week the man asked if we enjoyed his melons?

I was thinking about how we ate them at other peoples houses and at Uncle Clate's they would buy the watermelon when they did their shopping and then when he got home, it would be put in down in the creek. His spring box had been washed away so some large rocks were placed so that the melon sat in the water against the bank; and believe you me, after it had been in that creek overnight it was just right for eating.

The neatest place was where they had a springhouse and the watermelon was placed in it along side the milk, cream and butter. But they ate their watermelon by cutting small circles and putting it on a plate and then eating it in the dining room. Heck you could not be as messy that way, but watermelon is watermelon.

When you went on a church picnic or some other picnic in the summer where there were a lot of people, it was always near a cool mountain stream, so they were just put in it. It was so neat looking in the creek and seeing a dozen or so large watermelons floating there. But heck they always had an adult, usually an older person watching them, so we would not make off with one a little early.

Now I don't know about you but back then I liked mine cut in long strips, but these days, especially since we don't go outside and eat it from the rind, I cut mine into circular wafer cuts. And then put it on a plate to eat. But I have seen a lot of different ways to eat and to serve watermelon, and by gunny as long as it is cold and you give me salt, anyway is OK by me.

By Tom (tomWYO@aol.com)

The National Watermelon Promotion Board

Watermelon Wine

Home Page