Friday, March 5, 2010
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.
In the Forum: a period of artistic discrepancies.