Fourth of Ju-ly. Every year, Fourth of Ju-ly up at Grandma and Grandpa’s lazy, hazy farm in Northern Missouri. Days was long and blue, breezes playing amongst the trees and the Rose of Sharons sidling up to the wire strands fencing the yard.
Sparklers and fireworks and punks and M80s under a can would come with twilight. But for now, a still afternoon, chores done, America celebrated early, we’d slowly gather, meander, find our way, to the just barely overgrown front yard. Thick blades of dark green grass felt soft and cool under our bare feet. We kids hated to sit down, but when we did, we left deep marks in the flattened grass. Jo Jo left the biggest mark. He had the biggest backside. He’d always quick fluff up his spot, to avoid ridicule from us cousins. Don’t recall that ever working. We were beasts.
Grandma’d cleared the midday dinner dishes from the hot kitchen only an hour ago. She’d barely time to wipe her worn hands on her equally worn apron from that meal before the next stanza of the day.
Not a hurry nor a worry, today was the Fourth and one for just relaxing and playing, after all. We knew what came next, though, and it was up to us cousins to find the saw horses down to the machine shed and haul those puppies up to the yard. The men, uncles and grown boy cousins, they’d bring some planking up from the barn on their shoulders, makeshift banquet tables in the making.
I knew what was comin’. I KNEW what was comin’! I’d seen them giant green orbs coolin’ down to the edge of the pond. Pretty soon, never knew what took them so long, the men’d amble off that di-rection. We kids would fairly burst with whoops!
Nearin’ time, it was! Grandma popped through the screen door, slammin’ hard behind her, arms laden with metal cups that hurt my teeth to drink from, and a gallon jug of her sweet, sweet tea.
We did like it sweet in our family, begun with a pure sugar syrup, tea bags steeping just so. Clear brown tea, mine with no lemon, thank you, and barely cooled with only an ice-cube or two so’s I could gulp it down quick, long slurps, satisfying all the way down. Then I’d ask for my.
My belly’d be nearly as big as Jo Jo’s be-hind after downing a long tall glass or two or three or four if it was real hot, but like love, there was ALWAYS room for more.
And I was born ready.
Eyeballs pealed to the other side of the lane, we heard ’em before we seen ’em. The men, giant green and white striped watermelons hoisted on their shoulders, whistled and laughed, actin’ like a bunch of boys, come over the bank from the pond, Sleeves rolled to the elbows, wider grins that what we saw regular days, we knew they was as giddy joyful as us, knowing what lay ahead.
Odd, but ever Fourth, ever single one, it happened the same. Like Disney’s dwarves, they carried their loads up over the hill up to the yard, all us left to the yard near standing at attention. One by one, they unloaded their bounty into the metal tubs, filled with ice water, under the sea-horse tables. Couple of us kids would slide below and bounce and spin them in the water, just a wantin’ to be close.
Over our heads, the laughter and chatter was a low buzz, the main event on the horizon.
“‘C’mon over here, ” Grandpa’d bellow to one of us cousins, ragamuffins all, bouncin’ and pokin’, knowin’ one day it’d be our turn, but hopin’ beyond hope this would be the one!
Like runnin’ a gauntlet of grins and joy, the lucky one would dash to Grandpa’s side. A big ol’ knife, scary anywhere else, anytime else but now, rested firm in his hand, poised over the top of the first ripened watermelon.
With care and caution, the chosen one would lay his hand atop grandpa’s, with the precision of a surgeon, they’d slice open the first melon, laying bare the succulent, juicy ruby red, strawberry red, what am i saying, WATERMELON red fluffy icy insides! Dots of black seeds stood at attention during the slice, and once the first melon was done, triangles was passed down the line. We’d settle in, makin’ us new dents in the too long grass, and starting with the point where the melon was near pure juice, we’d dive in!
Heaven! Juicy, delicious, cold, eyes-waterin’ deliciousness! No idea what anybody else was a’doin’. Me, I was in my own little watermelon nirvana, juice decoratin’ my face ear to ear, sticky fingers and juice runnin’ clear to my elbows, drippin’ off the ends.
Ain’t nothin’, ain’t NOTHIN” better’n this moment right here!
Unless….(and Grandpa taught me this…)
“Hey Ain’t Florence? Please plass me the salt!”
I’d learned to ask Ain’t Flo, since she’d never make me “Come up and get it.” She’d just reach right over the table where the grownups would eat their melon off plates with knives and forks, imagine, and toss the shaker to my spot in the grass.
Only thing better than watermelon in the grass? It’d be watermelon in the grass with a shake of salt here and there to keep the eyes waterin’.
God Bless America!