It was Sunday, July 31st when a neighbor called. "Do you like watermelon," she asked. "Bob bought one and it is too much melon for the two of us."
Yes, I do enjoy watermelon and Bob arrived a few minutes later with two beautiful, fragrant slices. Seeing the bright red center with flat, black seeds embedded, encircled by white rind and emerald green skin brought old watermelon memories popping into my head.
My dad was a melon-eater. Arkansas watermelon was his favorite. His first taste happened one August afternoon, the year he moved to Arkansas. We stopped to visit a neighbor and while sitting on his porch steps, Emmit cut several green watermelon globes in half, handing them to each of us - with a fork stuck in the middle. Then he passed the salt shaker. Now we had never eaten watermelon with salt before. I'm not sure whether my dad salted his melon that day, but pleasure lit up his face with that first taste of sweet, cold, red Arkansas-grown watermelon.
I think that's when he came to believe Arkansas had the best watermelon and the best of the Arkansas watermelon arrived with August. Dad raised animals - not crops, so he and my mother shopped the county Farmers' Market with the city folks. I'm sure he began asking how the watermelon was faring from the first pickings of garden crops - certainly, long before melons came to market. One entire section of my mother's deep freezer was reserved for canisters filled with watermelon balls -just for my dad. They were jawbreakers but Dad chose them over fresh berry pie or ice cream every time.
My own special relationship with watermelon was in the contests - the seed spitting contests. I won at least three: First, at a "Street Party" when we lived in a little Illinois town. Next, at a health care professionals' conference and, finally, at a Thatcher Family Reunion in Buffalo, Missouri. I do know how to spit!
Watermelon is thought to have originated in southern Africa, the seeds arriving in America with slaves. There seems to be a culture and symbolism of black people's special fondness for it. Watermelon was also cultivated in China in the 10th century, although I've never seen it used as a symbol of China. And, there's my sister who can turn wedges of chopped wood into decorative watermelon wedges - is there something cultural or symbolic about that? Hmmmmm.
Each of my family members has a special fondness for watermelon. In addition to eating it, salt or no salt, fork or no fork, by the wedge, a slice or frozen balls, my family has favorite watermelon recipes from smoothies and granita to (sweet) pickled watermelon rind. Mmm-mm-mm, watermelon in August is Sooo good!