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Watermelon Feast

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

By T/Sgt. James Lee Hutchinson

We were skinny dippin’ in the cool waters of Big Bend one hot August day when Tuffy announced that he had a secret we would all like. He had our instant attention and we were all ears to learn what he had up his sleeve. It was really good news, our gang had been invited to enjoy a free watermelon feast! Watermelons were a summer treat enjoyed by any kid who could get his hands on one and every red-blooded Dutchtown kid carried a pocket knife in case a free melon crossed his path. Tuffy went on to explain our good fortune.

“My cousin, Hank lives on a farm about four miles out on the Tunnelton Road and his Dad raises watermelons. Hank said he would chill two or three ripe melons in the cool water of the Springhouse if we wanted to come out to the farm sometime before school starts.”

Labor Day was creeping up on and we didn’t have much vacation time left, so we decided next Tuesday would be a good day to stuff ourselves with cool watermelon. Not many golfers play on Tuesday Tuffy said he would see Hank over the weekend and make sure that would be okay for us to come out. Skinny couldn’t go because he might not get back in time for of basketball practice. The rest of us decided to ride our bikes to Otis, ‘sign in’ to keep our names on the caddy list and then ride to Hank’s farm.

Tuesday was a beautiful morning for a bike ride, we stopped at the golf course just long enough to sign in and were back on the blacktop. Our bicycles were nothing like the modern muti-geared, thin tired speedy racers. They were heavy iron framed monsters with balloon tires and only one speed; slow. Pumping those pedals was tough work and we were panting and ready to take a break at the roadside spring by the old quarry before but we got to the airport. A tin cup was hanging on a post so we drank, soused our heads with cold spring water and rested a while. The road leveled out along the airport and we pedaled easier and faster. A mile or so later we coasted down the long hill to Duncan’s Bend and across the Guthrie Creek bridge. Tuffy said we were almost to Hank’s farm, and our day got brighter as we followed our leader and pumped madly on with visions of ripe red watermelon waiting at Hank’s farm in the sandy soil of the White River bottoms.

We passed several farmhouses with big watermelon patches before Tuffy finally stopped at a sandy driveway marked only by a rusty mail box nailed to a tree. He proudly announced that we had reached our goal, but Chad, Doc and I were hot, thirsty and puzzled because there was no farmhouse in sight. Chad yelled at him,

“What do you mean, we’re here, what are you talking about, where’s the farm? I’m tired and thirsty, I wan’ta see cold watermelons”!

Tuffy got mad and fired back,

“Okay, Okay, keep your shirt on. Hank’s house is a ways off the road down this sandy lane. We’ll be sinking our teeth in watermelon in no time.”

We followed him down the lane but pumping a heavy bicycle through loose sand was nearly impossible and pushing one was almost as bad. Finally, we left them on the side of the lane and ‘hoofed it’ the rest of the way. We stopped at the yard gate of a very quiet farmhouse and Tuffy yelled out for Hank, but didn’t get an answer. He yelled louder two more times and Hank didn’t answer, but Doc did,

“Hey Tuffy, Hank’s not here, there’s nobody home! Do you see a car or truck in sight? Give it up. They’re gone so let’ git a drink from that pump in the yard and git over in the shade to rest. Maybe they’ll come back after while.”

We went into the yard and were pumping up water when a big woman came around from the back of the house. She was wearing a bloody apron and carrying an axe! Three of us cleared the yard in record time, but Tuffy stood his ground and said,

“Hi Aunt Mary, it’s me, Tuffy. Where’s Hank? He invited us to come out today for a watermelon feast.”

I felt a lot better when she put down that bloody axe, smiled and began talking to Tuffy,

“Sorry I didn’t git out here sooner Tuffy, but I wuz out in the back killing a chicken and didn’t hear you. I’m so sorry I couldn’t tell you boys he couldn’t do it today, but we don’t have a phone. Hank had to help his Dad haul a load of watermelons to a grocery store in Mitchell today and we don’t have a ripe watermelon on the place Well, we all understood her excuse, because none of us had phones, either. However, that part about ‘no ripe watermelons’ nearly broke our hearts. I guess she saw how disappointed we were because her next idea sounded like a pretty good alternative.

“Hey, Tuffy, we may not have watermelon, but we’ve got corn, I can boil up a mess of roasting ears real fast fur you boys”.

We enjoyed the roasting ears and rested a while before taking long swigs from the pump. Aunt Mary gave Tuffy a Mason jar full of water to get us to the spring by the airport. We plodded back down the lane to our bikes and pushed them through the sand back to the road. Chad took the lead and we pedaled past a couple of melon patches before he stopped at one and said,

“Boys, we’ve been looking all day for a watermelon, now there’s a field full of ‘em and I think we ought’a git one!”

We were hot and frustrated and we all had bicycle baskets, but we agreed to take only one, why would the farmer miss just one watermelon? Chad climbed the fence, thumped two or three to be sure he got a ripe one before handing over a nice stripped one for Doc to put in my bike basket.

We thought no one was watching, but just then I saw a little old lady come out of a house way down the road, She yelled, jumped in her car and tore down the road past us like a bat out of Hell. Doc said,

“Uh oh, she sure gave us a dirty look as she whizzed past, I think we’re in big trouble. We better git outta’ here pronto.”

We pedaled fast but I was last. I was handicapped by the heavy melon rolling around in my bike basket Our goal was to get past the last house and across the road, but we never made it. A posse of two mad women, one short one tall, cut us off at the pass. They were waiting by the side of the road at the next house and were armed with brooms. I thought it was appropriate because they looked like witches. The tall one was evidently the farm owner and the little one was the speedy squealer that nearly ran over us. We knew the jig was up so we pulled over and stopped. I had the melon so I decided to do the talking. I tried the ‘polite and playing-on-their -sympathy’ approach.

“We’re sorry Maam and we’ll give back the melon. You had so many and we only took one. We thought you wouldn’t mind if we picked just one. You look like a good Christian woman, can we keep it?

The tall woman said,

“Nice try sonny, but you boys are just sorry you got caught! Now hand over my watermelon and git on down the road before I call the Sherriff”!

Well. it was obvious that my plea had fallen on mad, deaf ears, so I lifted the melon out my bike basket and said,

“Okay, here, take your precious melon. We didn’t hurt it and we didn’t plug it, so we don’t even know if it’s ripe.”

The final insult came when the old witch took the melon and said,

“You didn’t know if it was ripe, eh! Well let’s find out”!

She threw it down and smashed it on the blacktop road! Green rind, bright red melon and black seeds flew in all directions. That was the only ripe watermelon we had seen all day. I’m sure the old lady thought she had won. But I think I won when I said,

“So long you old Stingy Gut, I’ll bet they won’t let you in church next Sunday.”

We pedaled off quickly and it was a long road back to town. The next day we told Skinny about our ‘wild goose chase’ and he had a good laugh at our expense before he asked,

“Why didn’t you lie and say someone gave it to you”?

My answer was simple,

If I haf’ta tell a lie, it’ll be for something more important than a watermelon

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