Mourning the missing melons

When I was a kid, one of the prime joys of summer was watermelon.  Watermelons were, by definition, huge, long, heavy, red, juicy-sweet, and full of seeds.  Thumping one meant something to those in the know.  Eating one left your fingers sticky and your tastebuds sated.

The very best watermelons in the whole entire world were to be found outside of Morrilton, Arkansas, at a breezy little stand beside the road that goes up to Petit Jean mountain.  Bob and Doris Hill (he was a co-worker of my Dad’s at Siemens) took us up there on a day trip right after we moved to Arkansas, and stopping at that watermelon stand on blistering hot summer days became a family tradition on our way down from Petit Jean.

On the way up, we’d zing past the watermelon stand and David and I would ask if we were going to get to stop there on the way home.  Dad was always cryptic and left us wondering till the last possible moment.  He’d slow down about a quarter-mile in advance and we were sure we’d stop, but then he’d speed up and say something about it being too late or costing too much or something.  Why did we wonder?  He always turned in.  = )

The stand of all stands consisted of a large concrete pad under a roof with white painted supports.   Within this pavilion sat about a half dozen picnic tables.  The benches only had two skinny boards each, and you had to be a little careful about who sat where, so as to keep from unbalancing things and tipping the bench.  At the far end was a wooden counter for paying, a great big cutting board, and a locked walk-in cooler affair which contained all that delicious green and red gold.

Melons there were sold whole or by the slice.  I don’t remember how much my dad ate, but since there were normally just the four of us, I’m guessing he went the slice route.  Whatever that price was (and I’m sure it would be considered quite low today quite low today), each of us hot, sweaty Petit Jean hikers received a one-eighth portion of a HUGE melon, served up with our choice of butter knife, fork, or spoon.  (The knife has always been my watermelon weapon of choice.)  Salt was available on the tables, but I never partook of that.  There’s simply no way to improve upon a perfect hunk of ice-cold watermelon.

I remember how sweet that first long sliver from the heart of the melon tasted.  And all the subsequent slices, too!  In fact, we’d each SO MUCH watermelon at that stand that by the time we got into “downtown” Morrilton and had to cross the railroad tracks, the bladders of the females in the car were usually jiggling in pain.

Alas and alack, in this case it’s true that those were the good old days.  Back then, even if you couldn’t get to the world’s most wonderful watermelon stand, you could go to the grocery and, for maybe $2.99, buy a comparable melon.  Of course, it wouldn’t taste quite as good at those Petit Jean ones, but if you could somehow manhandle the monstrous beast into your fridge and let it chill, you could enjoy succulent slices of watermelon day after day.

In the land of the free and the home of the brave, this is sadly no longer the case.  A few years ago, some marketing genius must’ve decided that if seedless grapes are good, seedless watermelons are better.  For the past several seasons, we’ve had a choice of buying the standard large and luscious variety complete with seeds or, for a slightly higher price, the small and sweet variety sans seeds.  Last year in these parts they ran around $3.99 or $4.99 each, with occasional very short sales of $2.99.

This year, all that has changed.  ALL the watermelons for sale are seedless.  ALL of them cost $5.99, no matter where you shop, and ALL of them are about the size of volleyballs.  Even for the grand Memorial Day holiday, prices dropped not one sticky red penny!  When we see those green mini-basketballs at Wal-Mart and Country Mart, we comment that watermelons now seem to come only in the single-serving size.

In most summers, I’ve bought watermelon every week or two, but I haven’t been willing to buy a single one yet this year.  For our family of six, a watermelon treat would cost us $36 (!!!), and given the way we ate them coming down off the mountain, these current watermelon imposters might not even feed one hot sweaty member of Team Roberts.


1 Response to “Mourning the missing melons”

  1. 1 charlotte hodge June 17, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    I loved your account of the watermelon stand. I, too, enjoyed those watermelons. I was wondering if I could reprint that in the Headlight here in Morrilton. I would want your names to give you credit.

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