Watermelon – the best of summer fruit

Published 11:00am Sunday, July 20, 2014

I love fresh fruit! Watermelon is my all-time favorite. My wife calls me a fruit-a-holic.

Grapes, peaches, and blueberries rank at the top of my favorites. Apples, bananas, plums, oranges and tangerines also rank high on the list. I enjoy exotic fruits and most of the various varieties that scientists have used genetics technology to create.

I visited Cuba in 2008 under the auspices of the annual Southeastern U.S./Cuba Agricultural Conference.While there, I enjoyed delicious fresh fruit at breakfast. The waiters learned my choices very quickly, and each morning my place was set with delicious Cuban fruit.

So, you might ask, (as do my wife, children, and most of my friends) where did I acquire such a love of fruit?

I do not really remember when it began, (since I was born at a very early age) but I believe growing up with six sisters and two brothers has some relationship to my love of fruit. My dad was a man of many talents, and he did whatever necessary to feed his family. Fruit became a regular part of our diet. Fruit was cheap, and the Reverend Otis (my dad) was always prepared to trade something of value to a local grocer or farmer. Every Christmas Santa always left fruit. We also had a Book of Lifesavers. I’m not sure how those sweet delights became matched with fruit, but my siblings and I sure enjoyed them.

So how did I pick fruit as the topic for this week’s column?

Barbara and I were driving past the Brookway Market Basket and I (always being on the lookout for Watermelon) read their banner proclaiming “Smith County Watermelons” now available. Being new to Brookhaven and Mississippi, I don’t know where Smith County is located. My newspaper instinct tells me when a business posts a banner, it’s something special and won’t be available long.

As you might suspect, we quickly pulled in for a look. The melons looked good. As some know, you can’t tell a watermelon by its look.

A watermelon must survive the “thump test.” That’s wisdom from my daddy.

He believed and practiced the idea that when thumping the melon with his middle finger (either left or right hand will work) and listening for a dull, solid sound, you could be sure your melon is ripe and ready to enjoy. On the other hand if the thump produces a hollow or ringing sound, you should keep looking.

This may be old news to many of you, as I have witnessed several Lincoln County residents employing the “thump test.” If you would like, send me a note and tell me your watermelon testing method.

Another method my daddy used to keep his flock fed and clothed (and keep me in fresh fruit) was setting up roadside fruit stands. We lived on East Broadway in Griffin, Georgia. That street was also U.S. Highway 41. In the days before interstate highways, people from all over the east coast traveled by our house on the way to Florida.

In preparation, my dad, brothers, and I would leave home around 5 a.m. in a borrowed pickup truck and head to Southwest Georgia to buy watermelons, peaches, cantaloupes and tomatoes that were fresh out of the fields. He would buy melons for as little as 10 cents each. I think of my dad every time I pay more than 50 cents for these items.

When arriving back home with more than one hundred melons, my brothers (and sometimes my sisters) and I would grab chairs, cut a watermelon in half for display and sit on the curb yelling “WATERMELONS” to all those folks from across the east coast. Many stopped and bought our melons for 25 to 50 cents each. They would also make our pictures. We became part of their Florida vacation. If only we had thought of building an alligator farm behind our house, what tips we could have made!

I often wonder what people thought of three little barefooted South Georgia boys in cut-off shorts and no shirts. I can tell you that we had fun and met interesting people. I wish we could have made their photos. Who knows, my brothers and I may be on someone’s Facebook page.

So that’s how watermelons became part of my life. There is hope for my family, as my daughter-in-law loves watermelon as much or more than I do.

What is the “watermelon” of your life? Whatever it is, I hope you will share it with someone soon.

If you find a good watermelon, please bring me a slice.

Otis Raybon is the publisher of The Daily Leader. Contact him at otis.raybon@dailyleader.com or (601) 833-6961.