True tales of the great watermelon raid part 1

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 19, 2000

(Editors Note: Ralph's column went a bit long this week. So long, in fact, we've had to split into two parts. Look for the exciting conclusion in next week's issue.)

We went toodling up the road this past weekend on our way to visit friends at the lake. On the way, we passed dozens of little roadside stands filled with the bounty of the fields.

Savannah wanted to stop and get a watermelon to take with us. As I slowed down to pull into the stand, the piled green offerings reminded me of a saying from my youth: "No watermelon ever tastes as good as one that is fresh off the vine, eaten in moonlight."

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Let me tell you about the Great Watermelon Raid.

It is common knowledge among males in the South that one of the most pleasing things on a really hot summer night is a freshly pilfered watermelon, straight from the field, vine still dangling. Don't ask me why, but a purloined melon is a least twice as sweet as one for which you plunk down cash.

What follows is the chronicles of the Great Watermelon Raid, which should probably go down in the annals of history among other great military maneuvers as Omaha Beach, Bull Run and the Battle of the Coral Sea (not really, but it sounds a lot better than just telling the truth.).

2200 HOURS: somewhere deep in the countryside of south Butler County, Alabama

My companions are ready for the battle ahead. We have chosen this mission because of the danger, the excitement and the offhand chance that we can convince some cute little Southern belle to share a watermelon slice with us.

It is a fine group assembled here at the staging grounds: born watermelon borrowers if ever there have been. At my right sits Newton – long of leg and slow of foot. Next to him, slowly working the stone along the blade of his vine slicing special, is the ever-vigilant Marvin (anybody who wears glasses as thick as Marvin's has to be ever vigilant , so they don't walk off a cliff). Our scout, Elton Bainbridge, III, is pacing the floor, every nerve taught, awaiting the move-out signal.

Then there's me, stout of heart and body. What a finely trained unit: the SWAT (Swipe Watermelons Any Time) team of seeds and rinds, and the scourge of watermelon farmers everywhere (well, at least in the areas that we're allowed to drive.).

As I address my men, a strange feeling wells up inside of me. It's not pride: rather, it's the aftermath of the croton oil that the last melon farmer dosed his melons with to help prevent such attempts at larceny.

"Men, it's times like these that try our bodies, our souls and our spirits. Let's remember the goal for which we strive and try to bring back our captives," I said, launching into my General Patton monologue.

"Let's try to get the truck started," said Newton, "and see if you can figure out how to be quiet."

Discipline is so hard to maintain among your troops.

2210 HOURS: two-lane blacktop, heading for trouble.

As we lurch off into the night (I never have been too swift with a three-speed transmission.), the adrenaline was running high. We settled into the front seat (wedged might be a better verb) and took to the backroads and dirt roads in search of our objective . . . the perfect watermelon field.

Let me digress momentarily. We had already spied the perfect watermelon patch. It belongs to a well-known local eccentric (which is a much nicer word than fruitcake) named Crazy Cecil. Not only was it bad enough that Crazy Cecil was well-known for shooting first, then seeing whatever it was, but his melon field was right behind his home . . . an old board and slat dwelling that stayed dry and cool because all the holes let the rain run out and the wind blow through.

To add further challenge to the maneuver, Crazy Cecil kept a yard full of guinea hens, known near and far as the world's greatest watchdog (watchbird?). All these added up to too much temptation for a bunch of teenage boys.

(Next Week, The conclusion to The Great Watermelon Raid.)