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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Watermelons, Peanuts, and Boys will be Boys

I find myself once again comparing my father to Samuel Clemens, or at least to his characters of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.  They were all little boys growing up in Missouri and while about 90 years apart, life in Missouri hadn't changed that much by the Great Depression so perhaps you will excuse my presumption of making the comparison.  See what you think.

I sometimes think of the year on the Doc Hunt place as the “year of the watermelons.”  The red sandy soil of those Ozark hills was getting quite worn out at the time, but until the big drought hit in the early thirties, some things grew quite well and one of them was watermelons.  That year Dad decided that maybe he could make a little money from watermelons so he planted about half an acre of them.  Well, watermelons did real well that year.  By the middle of the summer we—and everyone else in the area—had watermelons coming out of our ears.  It was a real whing-dinger of a bumper crop.  Unfortunately, there was not much of a market for melons that year.
I recall that we put a pile of watermelons out by the side of the road in the front yard with a sign that said, “10 CENTS EACH.”  There was not much traffic on that old dirt road except mostly local people and I do not recall that we sold a single melon.
The only ones besides us that made any use of that pile of melons before we fed them to the hogs was that one morning we got up and there were two fellows sitting out there by a car eating watermelon.  It turned out that it was two of our Hayward cousins from Kansas City—Wilbur and Denton, I think—that had come for a visit.  Finding no one up yet they sat down out there and had a breakfast of melons.  It was a four or five-hour trip from Kansas City in those days so I guess they drove down in the middle of the night to be there at that hour.
Watermelons had a special significance.  Even though we had so many watermelons at home that we only ate the hearts and threw the rest to the hogs, none tasted as good as a stolen watermelon.  We would walk right by our own melon patch then, on the way to the creek or somewhere, we would sneak into a neighbor’s patch and steal a couple.  Some of those old fellows would keep a shotgun loaded with rock salt for watermelon thieves so it was an exciting game to us.
I am afraid that all young boys waste a lot of watermelons—at least we often did.  Even though we knew full well how to thump a watermelon and tell if it was ripe, we had a much more sure method.  We would turn the melon over and cut a plug out of it with a pocket knife.  If it was not to our taste, we just put the plug back in and turned the melon back over so the plug would not show.  Of course, plugged melons just laid there and rotted.
We were always quite envious of a couple of boys that lived just down the road from us.  They had a knack of eating a whole slice of watermelon without spitting out a single seed.  Somehow they could store the seeds in their cheeks like a squirrel or chipmunk will do, then spit out the whole batch when they were finished in a stream like a machine gun.  I kept trying but never did master that feat.  I just wound up swallowing a lot of melon seeds.
There were other ways that country boys got into devilment.  Just down the road from our house, an old crippled man ran a very shabby little country store.  His name was Edgar Dixon and he was crippled in such a way that he went around in a perpetual squat.  We said that he did not leave any tracks because, when he went to the store, his behind wiped out his footprints.
It was not much of a store, but the local folks bought a few things there.  One time old Edgar got in some salted peanuts.  He put them up in penny candy paper bags and kept a pile of those little sacks on the counter for a nickel apiece.  Even if I could remember I would not say who did it, but one day there were some boys in the store who had taken in some rabbits to sell to the old man.  While they had him busy with the rabbits, one of the boys slipped a sack of those salted peanuts into his pocket without Edgar seeing.
The boys ate the peanuts as they walked across the fields, then they got an idea.  They gathered up some dried sheep droppings (which come out in small black balls) and filled the peanut sack with them, twisting the top back just like the old man had done.  Then they went back to the store to get some 22 shells.  (Right away you know that it was not Richard and me because we were not yet old enough to carry a 22 rifle around).
The story goes that later a neighbor lady was in the store and bought a sack of peanuts.  When she opened the sack, she looked in it and exclaimed, “Edgar!  Wh-what in the world is wrong with these peanuts?!”
The old man looked into the sack, his mouth fell open and he blurted out, “Gawd—sheep shit!”  He had to open every sack then to make sure there was no more like that.

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