Mr. Goodman, a lanky, hardened, coveralls-clad southern gentleman, had magical calloused hands. He could grow the largest and sweetest watermelons for miles and miles. His famous Watermelon Patch opened every summer morning with the day’s harvest. There was a steady streaming line of cars and, they sold very quickly.
Everyone waited with bated breath for the stand to open in June or July, depending on the growing season. We often drove on Hwy. 45 to check out the shuttered stand and left disappointed when the place was deserted.
The cantaloupes had a special fragrance oozing through the tough skin. The fresh watermelons cracked ahead of the knife, red and yellow skin varieties, and plump with juice, ripe and glistening from the natural sweetness. We fought over the first cut slices and especially the crested part of the slice. There was a cutting ritual, first in half, then each slice lengthwise, then tall sections off each slice – no melon balls in our family.
Picking the black seeds, as the red juice dribbled down our chins, we had an inimitable smile of satisfaction of having tasted perfection. We made fun of those who salted their slices. It was such a waste of natural sweetness!
I tried to save the seeds and grow my own patch but my watermelons never tasted so sweet or grew as large as Mr. Goodman’s. He had a secret he never shared or a magical piece of land that grew Jack and the Bean Stalk sized melons.
The summer of 2008 was very disappointing and sad – the Watermelon Patch never opened. Mr. Goodman had a heart attack. He survived but was told by doctors to stop doing strenuous work – and growing, picking, and hauling watermelons to the stand was hard work.
Dad and I used to go to the market in Romania to buy much smaller watermelons; the climate was colder and they never grew so large. The farmers let us cut a small triangle into the melon and taste the flesh before we carried it home. We haggled over the price if the melon was not very sweet. Once we brought it home in a shopping bag, Dad put it in the bathtub and ran a small stream of cold water over it because we did not have refrigerators. We did not use the tub in summertime anyway, we had no hot water. In a few hours, Dad would slice the chilled watermelon open. It was a royal treat because we only had fresh vegetables and fruits in summertime.
I drove on Hwy. 45 this April. The stand and the fenced area were falling apart. The sign was leaning, discolored by rain and sunshine. I stopped as if I was trying to smell the melon harvest of the past. It was raining and I all I could smell was wet dirt. But my imagination could see the mounds of cherished watermelons.
I never tasted such exceptional watermelons since then. I wished Mr. Goodman had shared his secret with me. I looked up his name in the phone book but there was no record of him. Maybe he moved or is growing tasty sweet watermelons in heaven. Wherever he is, I hope he is happy. His hard work gave us a patch of deliciousness every summer.