Southern tales. Southern stories. A love story.
One night I was talking to my friend, Chesley Thompson. She’s a Southerner. Born and raised. She has family all over the south, especially in Mississippi and Louisiana. She’s a school teacher. An incredible school teacher. Just ask her former students. I met her at UNO when we were both working on post-graduate classes. Among many other things, she is the mother of my god-daughter. She and her husband think I have some sort of magic about me. Or, at least I’m responsible. In some way. After all these years, they still haven’t learned. Heh!
She started telling me stories about her family and growing up in the south. They were really good. Not only did they help me to understand her a little more, but they helped me to understand the place that we mostly call home.
She’s a little nervous about publishing this. She doesn’t do this often. In fact, this is the first time she’s written this down on a piece of paper. Or, on a computer screen. She has a ton more stories to tell. I hope that I have the honor of sharing more of them with you. That’s her call.
It took me a little longer than normal to get this story together. She wrote it. I couldn’t photograph it. It was just hard making pictures that even came close. Sheesh, I’m really a city boy. I’ve never even seen a turtle in the wild. Watermelon patch? Don’t you go the grocery story and buy them? Then, I took a break from Storyteller. There were some family changes… all for the better. We grew. And, as John Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”
But, here we are. Finally.
A watermelon story from Chesley…
Sometimes stories just need to be told. They swell up and pop in your mouth and the next thing you know, they are filling the room with bubbles.
My daddy was raised on a farm but as he was the baby of the family, he was often told to stay out of way so he wouldn’t be underfoot. All the time he was looking for something to do, he was really wishing he could be elbow deep in some greasing of tractor parts or some other integral part of really farming.
On the farm, my grandfather set aside a vegetable patch for anyone interested, primarily my green-thumbed grandmother, to grow food for eating. Nowadays we’d call this a collective garden but then it was just known as the Patch. Mrs. Galloway from the next farm over tended to the pole beans. Lucy Lacey planted marigolds all around the edges to keep the bugs away and because she loves all flowers. The tomatoes were pampered by everyone and Jesse grew the best, sweetest watermelon anyone had ever tasted.
One long, slow summer day when my daddy was once again shooed away from the real work, he decided that one of Jesse’s watermelon’s would be really refreshing after the sun went down and everyone was sitting on the back steps talking about what they would be doing in the morning. So, being the thinking kind of boy he was, Daddy decided that watermelon would be even better if it were cold. No large ice drifts being available in middle Mississippi in the heat of the summer, Daddy decides that cooling it down in the pond was the next best option.
However, there was a small problem. The pond was all the way at the other end of the gravel driveway from the Patch. But this didn’t deter Daddy one little bit. He picked the biggest melon he could find and just rolled it up the driveway to the pond. He sank that sucker in the deepest part of the pond where he knew the water was the coolest, buried it in the red Yazoo clay that constituted the bottom of that pond so it wouldn’t float to the top and proceeded to attempt to stay out the way for the rest of the day.
Quitting time rolls around and Daddy was in the orchard picking a boot box full of green plums—that’s another story for another day—- but he fails to see all the men walking up the path. He doesn’t get to see their faces and hear their amazement at the huge swath of gravel missing from the middle of the driveway. He completely misses all the talk of a giant turtle grading the way from the Patch to the grass near the pond; about how darned big this thing must be and about what a good dinner that will be when they catch it.
When he finally sees them and remembers his surprise for them, he scrambles down the trees, dives into the pond and rubs all the clay off this now very cool monster melon. Just about then, it dawns on him that this thing is too big to carry, even the 20 yards to the car port steps. So, doing what he knew worked for him, he put it down and rolled it.
After the men had picked out the gravel stuck in the rind, and laughed themselves to crying, they ate the best watermelon God ever put in the path of boy trying to show his worth.
Legend says there’s still a turtle crawling around out there, somewhere.