The Fourth of July! Before I even knew about the American Revolution or the Declaration of Independence or the severe price we have paid over the past 229 years for the freedom we all take for granted, I looked forward to the Fourth because it meant we got to eat barbecue and shoot off fireworks. But most importantly, it was the beginning of watermelon season.
Now I know that eating watermelon is not a big deal to most folks these days. You can buy them in the grocery store 12 months out of 12, and my lovely wife, Lisa, serves it in fruit salad throughout the year, but back in the days of my youth there was no such thing as watermelon at Christmas and we didn't eat it cut up in a bowl with peaches and grapes and cantaloupe, either. When we ate watermelon, we simply ate watermelon - usually outside in the yard - and it was special.
You need to understand that folks in Porterdale weren't real big on wasting money, and my daddy would never consider paying more than a dollar for a watermelon. Fifty cents was even better, and I have seen him pay a quarter. He also didn't believe in buying imported melons. "Imported" refers to any fruit that came from further away than Cordele. The south Georgia watermelons and the lower prices created by the law of supply and demand usually arrived at local fruit stands right around this time of year.
Buying the first watermelon of the season was a big deal. We usually turned it into a family outing and had a lively debate en route to the store over the type of watermelon we would choose. I was partial to the dark green round ones - Daddy called them Stone Mountain watermelons - but the rest of the family liked the traditional oblong melons - the ones that were light green with dark green stripes. Size was my only other criteria and the bigger the better, but Daddy would walk among the melons, thumping and listening for just the right sound, although honesty compels me to admit that I never did learn what the right sound was.
Once we picked out the right melon, Daddy would carry it to the car - I was much too scrawny to be trusted with such an important task - and on the way home we would stop by the ice house to pick up a block of ice, with which to cool down our prize in a galvanized wash tub. Crushed ice cost more and block ice lasted longer, anyway.
The cutting of the melon, when the time came, was an even bigger deal. We would invite the cousins and the neighbors and Mama would cover the backyard picnic table with old newspapers and bring out the salt shakers and all the butter knives. Yes, we ate our watermelon with knives, and I still do, given the opportunity.
When everyone had gathered around the table, Daddy would do the honors. Using a big red-handled kitchen knife, he would make the first cut. Then he would invariably peer down into the melon and pronounce, "It's still green," eliciting a chorus of boos from those gathered round the table. Then he would continue with his cut and the melon would plop open, red and ripe - to everyone's delight. Don't you just love the sound a ripe watermelon makes when it pops open? If you have to make more than a couple of strokes with the knife, it's just not ripe enough.
Daddy would slice the melon into quarters and then into eighths - or 16ths if enough people had gathered for the festivities - and we would eat the delicious treat right down to the rind, which Mama would save to make into pickles. I wonder if folks still make watermelon rind pickles? Probably not. We're way too sophisticated for such these days.
The seeds, of course, provided a special problem. Some folks preferred to pick out the seeds while others became adept at eating around them and spitting. I was as likely to swallow them as not. Old folks used to tell you that if you swallowed a watermelon seed your belly would swell up, like a pregnant woman's. Of course they didn't use the word "pregnant." It was "PG" or expecting. I got an awful whipping one time when I asked our preacher's wife, who was very pregnant, if she had swallowed a watermelon seed.
Oh, well. The days when a watermelon-cutting was a big deal are long gone. My kids would turn up their noses and roll their eyes if I even hinted that having a watermelon on the Fourth of July was a big deal.
Not me. I'm going down to see Ben Evans and thump every watermelon he has on his lot. Them I'm going to pick out a great big one, spread the newspapers out on the picnic table and bring out the knives and salt shakers - just for old times sake.
And before I cut my melon open I'm going to offer a prayer of thanks that I still have the opportunity to celebrate our nation's independence any way I choose.
Darrell Huckaby is a Newton County native and the author of six books. He lives in Rockdale County where he teaches high school history. E-mail him at DHuck08@bellsouth.net .