My childhood is one checkered by stories that seem to have no actual end. The plots all resemble a rather twiggy shrub as opposed to the smooth, direct line of distinctive motion that most stories are supposed to have. This has marked me as an adult, with a distinct tendency to frolic at tangential narrative angles without warning. And naturally, I expect you to keep up. Don’t forget what has been said thus far, we’ll be coming back to it…eventually. But in many instances, such childhood stories were instructive as well as highly entertaining.
Once Upon a Time in South Georgia…
My father grew up as an Army Brat. Many are his stories of cross-country treks, when his father would drive from Seattle to Augusta in three days, before the creation of the ubiquitous freeways that we all know now. Even the Eisenhower project of national highways was just beginning to be enacted. But aside from these journey tales, there are stories of growing up in Augusta, and later, Moultry, Georgia. One of them involves a watermelon patch, a natural spring, and a group of little boys bent on first pilfering the sweet melons and then enjoying their ill-gotten gains in secret.
This particular patch was located outside of Augusta, Georgia. It was a small, largely rural community the residents of which were mainly concerned with farming and industry related to that end. Not much has changed today. While it would not have been considered a metropolis then, just as it is not today, it was the only relatively urban settlement in the area. My grandfather had taken an appointment that had a desk attatched to it, and my father was placed in school in Augusta.
While there may have been many advantages to living in town, the sensibilities of the community were still very much those of their country brothers. On Sundays in the 1950s, most businesses in the South shut their doors. Nearly everyone who was of a Christian persuasion, and a good many people who weren’t truly, went to church. As I’ve discussed in other segments, churchgoing was as much a social practice as a spiritual one. It was good for business and good for social climbers as well as those who were truly devout. You could exchange favors, recipes, and gossip after service, and it helped to connect individuals with a larger community.
It also meant that things such as highly desirable watermelons were left all by their lonesome in their patch, and little boys bent on pinching some of the sweet melons for their own enrichment could, conceivably get away with their plans Scott Free. It was a fine plan, so far as my father and his buddies could see. No problem. They would duck out of service after attending Sunday School, since the latter was considered all important for little boys and the absence from church service of their wiggly selves could be overlooked. Once free and clear, they would journey to the coveted patch and select perfect, sweet and juicy watermelons that had been growing ripe in the golden Southern sun for some weeks.
Then, they would take them to a nearby spring–icy cold even during the hottest and least forgiving August heatwave–and drop them in to chill. After which they could have a feast all to themselves, and no one would ever be the wiser. Well, it all went off without a hitch, five little boys bent on mischief, skulking away from the monolith of Southern propriety and sociability. They found the field without a problem, and were all set to pick several melons, when something went horribly wrong. They stepped into what appeared to be a field of solid earth and sank to their knees in the dark, rich mire for which the region is well-known. They had not thought to remove their Sunday dress pants before stepping into the field.
Still, determined that they may as well hang for a flock as a single sheep, they pressed on and pilfered the melons. When they reached the spring, they attempted to wash the mud from their clothing to no avail. It had stained them from ankle to knees. Well, they thought, they might be able to sneak home and change clothing before anyone noticed their ruined trousers. This might have worked for the others. To this day, I don’t know anyone’s story but Dad’s.
When he crept quietly into his house, he discovered that his mother had invited not only the Pastor, but the farmer whose watermelon’s he’d been stealing only hours before. They walked into the foyer, took one look at him, and knew precisely what he’d been up to. The moral of the story is not that we must never steal watermelons. For that matter, I can’t say I drew any substantially moral conclusion from this story. What I did learn is this:
In life, and in anything you plan to do, whether it is honest or dishonest, always know that there are unforeseen elements at work and they will impact your goal. Try your best to imagine everything that could possibly go wrong and then plan accordingly. In this case, spare pants would have saved the day, and also Dad’s backside once his theft was discovered. Also, those pants were beyond repair, and his mother had something to say on that score, you may be certain.