Park column: Some years later, confessions of a watermelon thief
By Alvin Park
For the Salisbury Post
One of the rites of passage for a young man growing up in the South during the 1950s and ’60s was to steal a watermelon out of a neighbor’s watermelon patch and eat it. Many of you reading this might feel just a little nostalgic at the mention of it and maybe, just maybe feel a twinge of guilt.
As I was rapidly approaching manhood and had not yet completed this requirement for entrance, I solicited the assistance of two of my friends, who to my knowledge had also not accomplished this singular feat ó the thought being that we could kill three birds with one watermelon, if you catch my drift. And besides, at least one had to have a car and a driver’s license (which I did not) to be able to drive the getaway car.
Since the owner of the watermelon patch is still very much alive, as are my accomplices in crime, we must assign everyone aliases to protect the guilty. Even though I am almost certain that the statute of limitations has run out on a watermelon theft that occurred 40 years ago, I would not want to cause anyone any due harm by this confession.
So, let’s just say that Larry, Moe and Curly (I’ll be Curly and as the judge said, may God have mercy on my soul) hatched a plan whereby they would steal a watermelon from Mr. McGregor’s watermelon patch.
The plan was thus: We would select a night when the moon was new or in an early stage so that the thievery could occur during the dark of night. Larry, the driver, would drive up the road beside the watermelon patch, slow the car to about 10 miles per hour and discharge Moe and Curly, who would select a suitable watermelon to steal.
Once the watermelon had been picked from the vine, Moe and Curly would carry it over to the side ditch and lie down so as to not be noticeable to any oncoming traffic. Meanwhile, Larry would drive to a designated crossroads, turn around and return in approximately 10 minutes, at which time he would flash his headlights to let us know that it was he.
Moe and Curly would then grab the watermelon and as the car slowed, jump into the back seat, place the watermelon on the floorboard and lie down on the backseat until Larry had carried us safely from the crime scene.
But, as Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, said in “To a Mouse”: The best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.
Here is what actually happened: After darkness fell, Larry drove Moe and Curly to the watermelon patch and slowed the car as intended. From that point on, nothing seemed to go as planned. Upon exiting the car at 10 miles per hour, Moe and Curly tumbled into the ditch in a heap. Moe twisted his ankle and Curly had the wind knocked out of him. After lying still for a minute or so to restart the breathing process, check for broken bones and make sure that they were not observed exiting the car, Moe and Curly entered the watermelon patch.
There the second problem was encountered. While the dark of the moon would help conceal them from observation, it also kept them from easily finding an appropriate watermelon to steal. Moe began feeling around on his hands and knees, which made more noise than was prudent.
Curly whispered, “What are you doing?” To which Moe replied “Thumping watermelons to find one that is ripe.”
At that time, the outside porch light of Mr. McGregor’s house came on and Mr. McGregor stepped onto the porch. Moe and Curly froze as Mr. McGregor said “Who is out there?”
The pace of activity suddenly accelerated as Moe and Curly grabbed the nearest watermelon available and Mr. McGregor re-entered his house and returned with a shotgun. Moe and Curly began running for the back corner of the watermelon patch while scanning the road for Larry and the getaway car. About the time they spotted the car with flashing headlights, the sound of a shotgun blast filled the air. Expecting to feel shotgun pellets, Moe and Curly hit the ground. When none were felt, they immediately jumped up, flagged down Larry and dove into the backseat with the watermelon and sped away.
With their hearts racing, the first thought was to get rid of the watermelon by tossing it out of the window, since it could be considered evidence of the crime. However, the rite of passage would be null and void if the watermelon was not eaten, and the farther we traveled from the crime scene, the better we felt about not getting caught.
So … we took it to Larry’s house and ate it. As watermelons go, it was a sorry little specimen and on that late summer night, its temperature was about 100 degrees.
But it was one of the sweetest tasting watermelons that I have ever eaten.
Alvin R. Park is a Catawba College alumnus and lives in China Grove.
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