Saturday, May 27, 2017

Singleton writes of the watermelon-stealing escapades of his teenage years

1933 B Model Ford
(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 “Memories of some country boys” was originally published in the May 23, 2002 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

Saturday, the 18th of May, my graduating class from high school had its annual reunion. We got together at a catfish café over on the bank of the Tombigbee River for a wonderful meal and some fun times together. Each told stories about some of the happenings that took place during our last years in high school. Much to my surprise, the story listed here was told by one of the young ladies who was involved in the watermelon patch raid that took place that cloudy night on her father’s farm near the area where we all grew up. I have added a little to it so that my readers will know more about the event.

During the years of my teenage life, I wasn’t all bad. I admit that I was guilty, many times being a part of a watermelon patch raid or swiping a few fresh ripe peaches from a grouchy old man’s peach orchard who lived in the farming community where I grew up. But, as I look back, it seems that this kind of behavior was expected from the youth of those times. On several occasions, I overheard my father and other men laughing and telling about certain events that were set up to try to frighten the living daylights out of my older brothers and some of their friends when they would raid a watermelon patch or a peach or apple orchard.

Always, if visitors or relatives from the city came to the farm communities during the time of year when the melons were ripe, a raid was always organized so as to frighten the living daylights out of the city slickers. Many times, it was always proper to show one’s courage to the country girls, to carry them on a watermelon patch raid on the night of a date. This is a story of one of those not so organized raids.

It was during the summer after we completed the 11th grade in high school period. A friend of mine managed to borrow his brother’s 1933 B Model Ford for a night on the town. Since there wasn’t a town nearby, other than Sweet Water, that we could have a night on, we decided to just carry our dates on a tour of the area. Hardly had the night gotten under way, when someone mentioned, “Why not raid someone’s watermelon patch?” Since my father’s death, we had discontinued any type of farming. My dear mother and I had moved from the farm to the town of Sweet Water. I had become a city boy of sorts; and city boys didn’t have watermelon patches. We couldn’t go to my friend’s family patch since he was afraid that he would be seen and he might have the car taken from him.

The dark haired young lady that I was dating excitingly suggested that we visit her father’s watermelon patch. She assured us that she knew a way to get to the patch without being seen. Hearing her talk left no reason to think that she didn’t know the trail to the patch and that she was very familiar with the area. She assured us once again that she had grown up on this farm and she knew the lay of the land by heart.

Parking the old Ford at the spot where my date instructed us to, we crossed the narrow country road and headed across a large field that lay on the side of a sloping hill. There was full moon above, but the heavy clouds that floated around the moon caused it to disappear behind the clouds at times, causing total darkness. After losing our way several times, we finally came upon the watermelon patch that belonged to the father of my date.

As the heavy clouds slowly moved across the face of the full moon, we eased along the melon rows, seeking out a couple of good, juicy watermelons. After “thumping” about half the melons in the patch, we selected the two we thought that would best suit our taste for a sweet juicy watermelon eating on a creek bank that was not too far from where we had parked our vehicle. Now all we had to do was return to the old Ford and load up and head to this favorite parking place. As we slowly made our way down a narrow path in the direction we thought would lead us to the narrow country road where the B Model had been left, the heavy clouds completely covered the face of the full moon. Within minutes, the night had become very dark. As we slowly moved along the faint path, it seemed to me that this wasn’t the path that we had traveled on our way to the melon patch. I confronted my date about the path not being familiar. She insured me in no uncertain terms that we were on the right path. She reminded me in a firm voice that she had grown up on this farm; she certainly knew where she was going. Shouldering my watermelon, I said no more and followed the young lady down the hill with my friend and his date coming along behind.

All at once, the full moon broke from behind the heavy clouds. To our amazement, we were just a few short steps from the wooden fence that surrounded the family barn yard. Whispering among ourselves, we tried to decide what the next course of action would be. My date, who seemed to know everything, suggested that we slip through the barnyard and out to the road that was not too far from where we were standing. I knew that we couldn’t retrace the path we had taken down the hill, because it had grown dark once again and we needed to get to the dirt road somehow quickly as possible.

Slowly we opened the barnyard gate and eased into the enclosed area. All at once, a young mule that was in the barnyard began to snort loudly and race around the barn. Fearing that we might be run over by the frightened mule, we raced for the other gate that we had been told was on the other side of the barnyard. To make matters worse, a small calf lay on the ground there in the darkness. Trying to reach the safety of the gate without dropping my watermelon, I stepped up on the back of the calf, not knowing it was there. This was when all heck broke loose; I fell broadside in the barnyard filth, losing my watermelon. The frightened mule continued to snort loudly and race wildly around the barn. My date’s father (I was to learn later) came out of the house with nothing on but his night shirt and began to fire his shotgun up into the air. This really caused the raiding party to hook up and get up the road to where we had left the car.

As we finally regained our breath, all wanted to know what had happened to the watermelon that I was carrying. When I told them that I had dropped it when I fell over the sleeping calf, everyone seemed to get quite angry that I had dropped the watermelon. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t hold on to the watermelon. Nothing was mentioned about my buddy losing the melon he was carrying in all the excitement. Needless to say, there was no watermelon cutting that night there on the creek bank.

As usual, my darling mother was awake when I arrived home that night. As I tried to slip in the house without her seeing me, she turned on the light. There I stood in my new sharkskin pants, dirty and filthy from falling over the sleeping calf. Her words were: “Lord, son, what in the world has happened?” I replied to her that she could go on back to bed; if I told her what had happened, she would not believe it anyway.

(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, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County in June 1964 (some sources say 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. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” 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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