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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Gray Matter: My kind of vandalism

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

(Photo)
I just finished eating a delicious cantaloupe given me by a friend. I'm grateful for the gustatory pleasure and equally grateful for all the memories it evoked.

I grew up in a family of expert melon growers. As you may know, it takes sandy soil, the kind corn growers consider inferior, to raise good melons. My father, who grew up in what might be called the "badlands" of southwest Nebraska, knew how to produce gourmet watermelons and cantaloupe (we called them muskmelons) in those conditions. There always seemed to be at least one sandy spot wherever we lived. He would seek it out and take full advantage of it.

He would plant several varieties of each. First came small, smoother- veined early muskmelons followed by several larger, rougher-skinned kinds which matured successively. The watermelons came in all shapes and sizes, as well. There were huge solid green ones, and a smaller kind, still oblong, but striped with shades of green. One sort had yellow meat, instead of the traditional red. Finally, there were the much smaller winter melons which were almost round. Dad kept those buried in the oat bin so they wouldn't freeze. In a good season they would last almost well into November.

A melon patch, though, produced more than the above-mentioned juicy goodies, for it was the source of many a moonlit adventure for daring teens. When I was quite small, we moved to a different community. A neighbor lad who'd helped with harvest seems to have spread the word of Dad's promising patch. However, he neglected to mention that we also had a bull that was easily irritated. We never got the full story, but I'm sure that creature's reputation amply protected the melon crop for several years after those earliest foragers suffered scratches and ripped overalls scrambling over, under and through our barbed wire fence.

As I look back on it, melon poaching and a few overturned privies were about the only vandalism in those long-ago times. Even at that, I think the melons were usually taken with very little damage to the vines. Yes, those were harder times, in terms of physical labor, but weren't they, somehow, easier, gentler times in many other ways ?

Now I must conclude with a note of personal regret. Melon stealing was usually a "guy thing" but my girl friends were always delighted when they were fortunate enough to be invited on such a foray. According to their accounts, it was the closest thing in their young lives to truly high adventure -- adventure my sister and I were never privileged to experience because (you guessed it) our dad's melon patch was always the destination!