Saturday, January 9, 2016

Singleton felt that the raiding of watermelon patches was becoming a 'lost art'

George Buster Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Raiding watermelon patches is becoming a lost art” was originally published in the Aug. 1, 1991 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

About this time every year I think of what the younger generations are missing, since the art of raiding watermelon patches is no longer a pastime.

Our youth of today probably don’t know that watermelons grow on vines and in patches or fields. Most think that watermelons come from the supermarkets or fruit stands.

A watermelon that has been purchased from a curb market or grocery store doesn’t taste as good as one that has been borrowed (or stolen) from a farmer’s patch during a moonlit night and carried to a nearby creek bank.

As a young teenager who grew up in the country, I know first hand the thrill and excitement of going on a watermelon raid with a group of other country boys and girls. Many times a raid would take place in a patch that belonged to the family of one of the members of the raiding party. This did not matter because it might be suggested by a member of the group that their watermelon patch was loaded with ripe, delicious melons.

When entering a selected patch, great care was taken not to damage or destroy any melons. Only enough of the ripe melons were stolen to feed the group involved. This being a great pastime with the young people, the local farmers kind of expected to lose a few melons during the season when the time was right for harvesting.

During the ripening season, many tricks were tried by the local farmers to discourage the watermelon raiders from visiting their patches.

One morning, on the fence between the road of this farmer’s patch, a sign appeared for all to see. It was a huge board painted white with large black lettering. The sign read: “Beware, one watermelon in this patch has been poisoned.” Two mornings later, the sign had been very neatly changed to read: “Beware, three watermelons in this patch have been poisoned.” It was such a shame to see a whole patch of large, juicy watermelons rot right there on the vines.

One Saturday night this group of teenagers decided to visit a patch that belonged to a farmer who didn’t take kindly to raids. I was a member of the group set to visit Mr. Thrash’s patch and borrow a ripe melon or two.

I also had a date with Mr. Thrash’s only daughter the very night the raid was planned. The raid was to take place after an ice-cream supper at a nearby church. None of the group had ever been to the melon patch that was to be visited that Saturday night. Virginia, my date, assured everyone that she knew where her father’s melon patch was and how to get to it from where we had parked our transportation up the road aways.

We made it up to the watermelon patch located on the side of a hill, overlooking the family home and barn. The moon had furnished enough light for the group to see and make its way up the hill to the melon patch. The night skies had become increasingly cloudy as we eased about, thumping and feeling the large melons, trying to select a couple of good ones that would be just right for eating on the nearby creek bank a little later that night.

After selecting a couple of large melons, we started back down the path that we thought we had traveled earlier. The path didn’t look familiar, but Virginia assured us that this was the right one; this path would lead us almost right up to where we had left our transportation. Due to the increasing clouds, the night had become quite dark as we made our way down the hill.

We stopped again; this was not the way we had come when we left the road. We were assured very firmly by our guide that we were on the right path that led to the road. Virginia stated in no uncertain terms that she should know; she had been raised on this farm and she knew her way around.

Before the group realized it, we were at the fence that surrounded the barnyard. To our right was the farmhouse, just a short distance away. We knew that we couldn’t go all the way back up the hill to the watermelon patch and try to get on the right path; it was too late for that.

My date, and our guide, suggested in a low whisper that we should try to slip through the barnyard and out to the road without making any noise; she also stated that her father was a very light sleeper.

As we eased the gate open, so as to make our way across the barnyard, a young mule that was loose inside the fenced area began to snort very loudly and race at high speeds around the barnyard.

All calamity broke loose within the barnyard. In trying to keep the racing mule from running over us, I must have stumbled over a sleeping calf that lay on the ground between me and the gate that led to the road.

From the back porch of the house came two shotgun blasts from old man Thrash, who, dressed in his nightshirt, fired into the night air to frighten the prowlers from his premises after hearing the commotion outside.

It takes great skill and balance to ride the back of a bucking bull yearling across a large barnyard while holding on to a 30-pound watermelon. Take it from me – I know from experience.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, moved to Monroe County in 1961 and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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