Some Real Family Jewels
Several years ago, at the height of my nasty divorce, my in-laws called to say they were bringing me something.
Naturally, I was a little nervous. They’re nice people, but my mother-in-law had once remarked to me about my husband, “He’s your problem now.” Since they weren’t exactly thrilled that I was retracting that responsibility, I couldn’t imagine what kind of gift they had in mind for me.
It’s a fact of life that when a nice person demonstrates great pleasure in something simple, people will go out of their way to indulge that pleasure. For instance, I stopped this morning to buy my daughter, who’s visiting for the week, a box of 16 sea-salted caramels from Claude’s Chocolates here in St. Augustine. Why? Because I love my daughter, and she loves Claude’s caramels.
I love watermelons, and people have been giving me watermelons my whole life. Every summer until my grandmother died, I could count on my grandparents bringing me a Crimson Sweet melon. Last July, my best friend brought me a melon from an old farmer in middle Georgia who’s a friend of her father’s. Ever since I was pregnant with my son and ate a whole watermelon by myself, my in-laws have been well aware of my passion for that sweet, red fruit and have occasionally indulged that passion. But here’s the thing: in every single watermelon gift during my lifetime, I’ve only received one. I’ve never had a pair of nice melons.
Imagine my surprise, then, when the divorce was at its worst, my estranged in-laws walked into my house bearing two gargantuan watermelons. I was still a little skeptical until they set them on my countertop and said, “We don’t know if they’re any good. Uncle Charlie threw out the seeds in the family garden patch at the farm. No one’s watered them, but there sure are a bunch out there. If you want more, just ask.”
I thumped the first one with my middle finger. Thunk. It sounded perfect. I grabbed my biggest knife and cut into that melon, still expecting it wouldn’t be much. They’d been neglected, after all, and how good can an unloved melon taste?
After the first cut, it cracked completely open. A very good sign. I took a bite, then looked up in surprise at my in-laws. I started laughing and said, “This is the best watermelon I’ve ever had in my life!” It was crisp, not the least bit mushy. And sweeter than a spoonful of Splenda. But no artificial sweetener has ever run down my arm and dripped from my elbow onto the extended tongue of a begging dachshund.
No, I didn’t eat that entire melon by myself. My in-laws and I stood over that kitchen as they helped me devour it. My kids walked through the kitchen and stole a few bites. Even the dachshunds, Laverne and Shirley, got lucky. I was brandishing a large chef’s knife, yet no one was intimidated. It was the magic of the melon.
As we ate, my father-in-law told me the history of my melons. They weren’t an experiment in genetically altered rindless, seedless, tasteless mush melons by the most hated company in America, Monsanto. The heirloom seeds had been in his family for over 100 years. “If you save these seeds and plant them,” he said, “they’ll grow.” So I saved three big handfuls of seeds from those two melons and froze them. The next spring, I planted probably twenty of the seeds in pots inside my pool area, intending to transplant them once they were established. I never got a melon off those plants. Deer kept jumping my fence and eating the plants. The closest I got to a watermelon was one tennis-ball sized orb I was watching closely. But a damn deer got him, too.
After that failed attempt, I forgot about my seeds. They sat in my freezer for five years, and I found them last May when I sold the house and finally cleaned out the freezer. I brought them to Florida with me and tucked them safely away in a new freezer.
When my pool construction was completed in January, I asked the guys installing the new landscaping to help me prepare a small garden patch in the corner of my yard. They tilled a spot and worked in several bags of cow manure. On a warm day in February, I planted those twice-frozen old heirloom watermelon seeds in hopes one or two would sprout.
This beautiful quote is from the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism: “I am the immeasurable potential of all that was, is, and will be, and my desires are like seeds left in the ground: they wait for the right season and then spontaneously manifest into beautiful flowers and mighty trees, into enchanted gardens and majestic forests.”
Or a few perfect watermelons. But only if you take them out of the safety of the freezer, expose them to a little shit, and resist the urge to tug at them in hopes of making them grow faster.