WATERMELON, Disappearing Varieties

Watermelon was always a special treat when I was growing up.  There seemed to be several popular varieties back then.  The three most desirable were the extra large dark green ones with dark red meat known as the Black Diamond in addition to the same exterior with a sweet yellow interior.  The third one, which eventually squeezed out the others was the dark green exterior with light green alternating stripes commonly called sugar baby.

Jack McClain & Black Diamond Watermelon

Jack McClain & Black Diamond Watermelon

My childhood was full of fond memories pertaining to watermelons.  Most of those memories are about other friends and family members.  Three of which I will share with you in this brief article.

It was back in the summer of 1948 that I was invited to spend the summer with my Uncle Carl and Aunt Gladys Foster at their Blue Ridge farm.  Gladys is still living and will celebrate her 102 birthday in a few days.  I arrived at their farmhouse on a Friday afternoon.  Uncle Carl looked at Gladys and “I got to get hold of Alvey,” as he walked over to the phone.  He picked me up and allowed me to turn the crank.  Then he spoke into the phone, “Gertie, This is Carl.  Get me Alvey on the phone.” A few minutes later he replied, “Alvey, this is Carl.  Can you come over here tomorrow?  Me and my nephew needs a haircut.”  The next day Alvey came over and cut our hair out on the kitchen porch.  No electric clippers, just scissors and his hand operated clippers.

That following Sunday morning, Carl and Gladys took me along for a visit at their little church near downtown Blue Ridge.  I will never forget standing up in the seat between them on the way back to their house.  About halfway along the trip, I spoke up and said, “Next Sunday, I want you to give me some money so I can put it in that plate when they pass it around.”  Gladys, ask, “Why do you want to do that?”  I said, “So I can get some of that grape juice and crackers.”

Monday, the following day is also another experience that I will always remember. Carl had placed a burlap bag over one of those black diamond watermelon and poured water over it early that morning.  His instructions to me were to come over to the watermelon about once every hour and pour some additional water over it.  Which I made sure water was added in an attempt to cool down that big melon.  Gladys was out hoeing in the garden when she suddenly said, “Stay right here,” as she hopped on the tractor and headed over to the water tower.  I ask what was wrong once she returned and she explained that Blue Ridge was trying to raise enough money to get an automatic shut off for the water tower, but until then it was up to the surrounding neighbors to shut off the pump once the sliding gauge on on the side of tower reached the top.

Then head over to add more water to that burlap sack.  Couln’t stop thinking about getting to taste that sweet black diamond watermelon.  That evening after dinner we gathered at the table as Carl cut open that melon.  I was so disappointed that big watermelon wasn’t cold inside.  Guess I thought my efforts were not much help.

Watermelon stands were very popular in the Dallas area back in the 1950s.  My great Uncle Harmon Raney was quite successful with his Garland area watermelon stand.  The one that I remember was near Dairy Road and Highway 66 (also known as 67).  He would drive to East Texas to buy the watermelons.  He then bought several blocks of ice to chill them down before selling the large melons by the slice.  I remember seeing cars parked all over the roadside around his stand.

Jack McClain was another local watermelon icon.  Jack operated the Pleasant Valley Store which was located at the corner of Pleasant Valley and Merrit Roads.  He added an ice house out front back in the 1950s where he sold ice by the block.  Don’t think he made any money selling ice, but he got the idea about selling cold melons.  He also headed to East Texas and bought enough melons to fill up his truck.  The word soon spread among the community members in addition to all the domino player that seemed to always be present at that little country store.

This last, and brief recollection, pertains to my Uncle Rice Wells.  I was out in the front yard and about eleven or twelve years old when he stopped by.  Uncle Rice asked, “If I bring you boys a load of watermelons can you sell them?”  I assured him that we could.  He then said, “OK, I’m going over to San Saba tomorrow and I’ll bring back some melons and see what you can do.”  The next day, as the shadows began to lengthen, Uncle Rice pulled up with a trailer behind his blue ford sedan.  He had placed hay in the bottom of the trailer for protection.  He took the trailer full of the old fashioned watermelons up the road to a vacant lot that was once the home of Aunt Belle Wells.  We sold the melons in a couple of days.  I will always be grateful to him and have never forgotten his act of kindness. He just wanted to teach some young kids learn about life.

Note: Jack McClain’s grandmother came to Dallas County as a member of the 1854 wagon train from Monroe County, Kentucky.