Friday, March 5, 2010

Family Matters


I was surprised to discover yesterday that I haven’t talked to my cousin in six years. I know it’s been six years because I wrote about his telephone call in the March 4, 2004, entry of my journal, One Hand Clapping. And in that entry, I made mention of the fact that prior to that, we hadn’t seen each other since 1990. Growing up, we were very close. We still are. I guess this proves it.

March 4, 2004 — I was jolted from my torpor yesterday evening by a phone call from a cousin I haven’t seen since our grandmother’s funeral in 1990. He was on a business trip and was calling from a hotel room in Washington, D.C. Fairly early in our conversation, I asked him if he still smoked. He said he had quit seven years ago with the help of nicotine gum, but that now he was hooked on the gum and thought he might have to take up smoking again in order to break the habit. This struck me as an extraordinary piece of information. In exchange, I told him about the time I took our grandfather to the grocery store, and looked on while he dismantled a large display of cantaloupes to get at the ones he wanted. He was about eighty-eight at the time and walked with a cane. When he got his hands on a shopping cart, however, he put the cane in the basket, leaned on the cart, and sped all over the store with his load of melons and sale items. It was almost impossible to keep up. While we were on the subject of melons, I also told my cousin that during the Depression, Gramp was one of the best-known watermelon pickers in the San Joaquin Valley. Yes, in those days, one could be known for such a talent. That’s why I miss those days, even though they happened before I was born. But Gramp was not merely a great watermelon picker. He was a watermelon consultant. They didn’t call it that back then, but that’s what he was. When a farmer was having trouble getting an already-picked load of melons past inspection because too many green melons had been picked, Gramp was called in to separate the green melons from the ripe melons. This is not as easy as it might sound. It is one thing to judge a melon’s ripeness while it is still attached to the vine, within its natural setting and context. It is entirely another when you are faced with thirty tons of melons stacked together. To most people, they all look alike. And you certainly can’t thump them all, because that would take forever. No, in a situation like that, what is needed is an understanding of melons. Gramp knew the degree of a melon’s ripeness at first glance. He didn’t have to stand there and think about it. My cousin was amazed. I said, “Yes, we also have this in our blood. It is something to be proud of.” When he said sheepishly that the melon-picking gene seemed to have passed him by, I encouraged him with, “No, you have the talent, it only needs to be awakened.” While he mulled this over, we chatted about other things, until we finally realized the conversation had run its course. I found this tremendously sad. It was almost as if a door had miraculously swung open, only to slam shut again.


Update:
In the Forum: a period of artistic discrepancies.

10 comments:

Noxalio said...

oh, William, this is a story much like mine would be with several of my cousins (and interestingly of my own grandfather too, who apparently had the melon picker gene in him - although far from the level of consultant your gramps had attained - i wonder if any of his people had farmed melons ... hmmm, i must ask my mother). i think i would have liked to have known your gramps.

thank you for sharing this. it reminds me to make a call or two this weekend.

noxy.

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Noxy. Right off the bat, that proves you have more sense than me. Gramp was an amazing man — hard-headed and soft-hearted at the same time. He almost died during the 1918 flu epidemic. Once, when I was mowing his lawn back around 1976, he noticed a preying mantis on one of his rose bushes. With lightning-quick reflexes, he grabbed it and crushed it between his fingers and said, “Darned grasshoppers.” When I explained that it wasn’t a grasshopper, and that it was actually a beneficial insect, he said, “Bah.” That’s a picture of us on the front cover of No Time to Cut My Hair. He was my barber, bless him.

Caio Fernandes said...

what a beautiful world where a man can be recognised as a melon picker !!
this is reall honnor .... not the weird exuses we have in life to make proud of ours selfs .
life puts us apart fron who we like .
but i don't talk with my relatives as cousings for more than 8 years and we live at the same city ... i feel blessed for this .
Sao Paulo is a city that after to say : "see you later" , you will never see that person again for the rest of your life .
freedom for me .

RUDHI - Chance said...

Yah, sometimes consciousnes takes its own ways by thoughts and speeches in unaspectable directions I learned also by this picturesque William-Story!

nouvelles couleurs - vienna atelier said...

Hi William,
I have always fuond in a tranger more to tolk as with a parents...

good night

William Michaelian said...

Caio, I knew you would appreciate the melon reference. And you’re right about the weird and phony excuses. “See you later!” — but not in Sao Paulo, I guess.....

Rudhi, you’re right — my wheels are always turning, but they go in different directions. Maybe that’s why I’m not getting anywhere!

Laura, I understand. There’s an old saying: Better a close friend than a distant brother. But of course it works both ways. Sometimes, through habit, we stop listening to those who are closest, and with strangers and new acquaintances we pay better attention.

Joseph Hutchison said...

Now I understand why those early blog posts of mine about simblins caught your eye! Our first exchanges, as I remember. So I guess that ultimately I have Gramp to thank...

William Michaelian said...

Yes, we both do. And what better way to meet than over a fine ripe watermelon....

ALeks said...

When I go home and that is not often enough(I was back there 4 years ago),my brother knowing what I miss most of the food matters,is welcoming me with a huge,Greek watermelon,on our way from the station,right there on the side of the road where the farmers are standing with their watermelons all packed on their tractors trying to sell them,wiping dust of it with my sleeve and knocking on it to hear that heavenly sound of ripe melon.Mmmmm....we cool them down mostly in the river if not that than in the bathtub,:O)
Love the story,I new the Grampa was a special kind as you are :O)
Greetings to you from cold Holland,it is snowing again!

William Michaelian said...

Snowing again, and here we are talking about old times and watermelons. We are both ready for summer! And yes, you would have liked Grandpa. He was a good singer, too.