I found myself yesterday afternoon lined up in an earthy furrow between a rolling lawn and a row of seedling cabbages. My bare feet burrowed in the dirt relishing the cool contrast to the hot June air. To an outside observer I would have looked awkwardly perched; my body pressing forward with the breeze and my elbows jutting steadfastly out to each side. Rivulets of sweet cool watermelon juice ran down my forearms and dripped from my funny bones creating tiny mud puddles at my feet. I had a good piece, thick and chilled just enough to refresh but not cold enough to slow me down. Most importantly—the spongy red flesh was teeming with seeds. ~Curious, that they don’t grow watermelons like this so much these days—that we’ve modified them to be neat and tidy with nothing but holes where seeds used to be. Society I think should be saddened that we worry so much about making life comfortable and clean for our children, that we find it troubling to plague their generation with a pleasure as mundane and sticky as spitting out seeds.
At the ready with an arsenal of slick black pips exposed I chanced a glance left and right measuring-up my competition, worrying little about the threat of anyone shorter than my waist. My two young brothers, beyond lacking threatening lung capacity, would be sufficiently distracted by grandma niggling on about spitting the seeds not swallowing them and mother vigilantly tracking how close they were eating to the rind. ~Curious, I wonder, how old was I before I stopped fearing that a watermelon could sprout and grow in the dark acidic confines of my tummy and that eating to the green would kill me. Nine, I surmise—most childhood mystical truths die around then, don’t you agree?
I caught the sideways warrior glare of my real competitors—the cousins; two, of which only one posed any arguable threat. Diane had the definite potential of a solid contender, with age and height to her advantage but suffered from situational giggles. Any advantage crumbled under her inability to maintain composure. Laughter is a serious handicap to carry on the watermelon circuit. So it came down to two, me and the champ; Sharon, small but mighty. With good lungs and fierce determination cuz’ possesses the God given skills to hock a pip past the hollyhocks and into the neighbour’s corn field if she catches the wind just right. Looking at my adversary I drafted a small but mighty curse upon her seeds meant to render them heavy poor fliers. ~Curious that I believe too strongly in my mother’s lean to the dark arts when the odds of not believing could tip the scale against me.
Lined up, rushing with adrenaline we did our best to psych one another out while we waited for the ‘go’ (Diane snickering already). It would come from the picnic table just a few yards away where Grandpa sat with his back to the driving shed, face to the field. Shirtless on account of the particularity warm day, revealing a large angry bypass scar polka-dotted on each side where they stapled him shut. Five degrees above rye drinking weather he was enjoying a tall glass of ale sprinkled with salt to cut the head. He held us in the balance with his starter’s power, left us hanging, pensive and ready while he teased… “One, two, twelve...stop” One can’t help but marvel that a man with such life scars, seen and unseen, should delight so entirely in the taunting of children and laugh riotously with mischief at our protests. ~Curious, who delights in his mischief more, the sprite or the imps.
One……two…….three….and a half………………………………………………………………….Go! There was no stopping the sudden barrage of air launched seeds! The trick to speed is always keeping the seeds wet and slippy, reducing drag while they shoot past your lips. Distance comes from curling your tongue up like a cannon barrel and giving the pip some trajectory. My gaze was locked on the feathery mass of asparagus gone to seed on the far side of the garden. Beside me Diane’s snicker had morphed into fits of giggles simply by watching my little brothers; Rob with seeds dribbling down off his chin while tremendous bursts of successful noise sounded from his lips. Grant still plunked butt down from waiting for the ‘go’ hurling dirt clods in place of seeds and getting some pretty good distance in fact. The sidelines cheered “Go Diane go!” which effectively induced tears of laughter and rendered her un-spit-able.
The field narrowed considerably, Sharon and I were fiercely head to head. Setting records; past the pepper rows, the carrot rows and the beets and the chives. Spitting mercilessly and pointing in dramatic fashion to draw attention from the crowd for a brilliant sail. Jumping up and down and trying to exclaim our superiority through pursed lips. But the laughing, the way Grandpa carried on and tried to trip us up, and Mom tried to be an impartial judge, Diane rolling on the ground behind us and Grandma trying to curtail Grant’s hurling of dirt clods in between chuckles—we were no match. Rob’s impressive fruitless sound effects increasing in volume to surmount the laughter….it was winning. Watermelon juice drying on your skin causes an itch that you can’t wriggle away while you swat at the flies it attracts. Sharon and I were losing ground, mouths drying out with every spit and falling into the giggling trap behind us. Our launches flew shallower and shallower as our shoulders began to shutter and we gave-in to the revels cheering us on. ~Curious how infectious we can be.
There is always a moment when an inhale and exhale cross paths and a seed goes inward instead of out. In that moment in the heat of battle, in the face of onlookers you forget that you already know a watermelon can’t germinate in your stomach and you are paralyzed by the sudden heart stopping fear that you are in fact going to die. The look on your face in that paralysed moment stops your mother cold. When a mother stops laughing everyone stops laughing….until someone asks what’s wrong and you scream out that you swallowed a seed. Then the laughter explodes and you simply can’t spit anymore. Your opponent wins.
~Curious that a little seed can stop everything for you; the way a hot summer breeze that greets you as you depart the double doors of your very grown up life stops you where you are and transports you back in time to one of your favourite summer days.
If you were there I hope you've gone back too.