This segment of one o’the nine stories from my paternal uncles was originally written and published in a north Florida community newspaper on March 26, 1987. The watermelon in the picture (from Wikipedia), is called Vampire, but it closely resembles the Rattlesnake melon mentioned in the story.
Growing up on the farm in the early thirties, there wasn’t much to entertain us like young people have today. There was no TV, and most people didn’t even have radio, so we had to learn to entertain ourselves. One of our favorite things was going into a neighbor’s watermelon patch at night and swiping a watermelon. If we had gone to his house and asked him, he would gladly have given us all we wanted, but that would have taken all the fun out of it. We had quite a few experiences in watermelon patches, but not like a friend of mine had.
He said when he was a boy he lived in Madison County, and at night he would go with some of his friends to neighbors’ watermelon patches to swipe melons. He said “one of the neighboring farms was owned by a black man who grew big, old-fashioned “rattlesnake” watermelons. He and his friends would slip into this man’s patch at night and get the largest melon they could find, and take it to an old [tree] stump that stood in the center of the patch, and burst it on the stump. They only took the “heart” from the melon and then would get another. (Now remember, the man didn’t care for them getting the melons, but he didn’t like for them to waste so many.)
One night the man decided he would scare the boys so they would quit wasting so many melons. He took his shotgun and went to the patch to wait for the boys. Now he wouldn’t have shot the boys but would have only scared them. He waited, but the boys were late getting there so he sat down by the old stump and eventually fell asleep. He was wearing an old black jumper jacket and an old black hat. As he sat beside the stump in the dark, you couldn’t have known he was there, he just looked like part of the stump.
While the black man was sleeping, the boys came into the patch and got the biggest watermelon they could find and went to the old stump to burst it. They raised the melon high into the air and came down on the man’s head with it. Well, the man screamed as he jumped up and began to run across the field scared out of his wits. (Can you imagine being hit on the head with a watermelon while being asleep?)
Well, when the man jumped up and screamed, it almost scared the boys to death! They had never had the stump to scream and run before they ran in the other direction. My friend said he fell over almost every watermelon in that patch as he ran, trying to get away from that stump. He also said he never stole another watermelon, and the black man never planted another patch.
Postscript: Watermelons played a big part in country summers, not only for young men and women, but for most farm families I knew, most of whom managed to find space to plant a few. They were a popular treat buried in laundry tubs of shaved ice during Sunday afternoon family gatherings. The best way to serve them cut lengthwise into iced-cold wedges alongside a salt shaker, but if you found yourself working in fields sweltering in the hot sun and low on water and a field of melons close by, it only mattered that they were wet and juicy. No special utensils required. The most important thing was to know how to pick one. The underside, the part that touched the ground, had to be a buttery yellow color, and when you thumped them (holding your ear close) they had to have a hollow ring, and heavy for the size. The “heart” is the juiciest and ripest part in the center. One health benefit of watermelons is that they contain lots of lycopene, the antioxidant that “may help” reduce risks of cancer. Ironically, both uncle authors died of cancer.