Friday, December 25, 2009


After removing five acres of raisin grapes on our farm in the fall of 1972, and before planting nectarines there in 1974, my father and I grew watermelons in the open ground. For most of a blazing San Joaquin Valley summer, “we busted our ass,” as the saying goes, doing all the work ourselves — replanting the weak spots early on, thinning the plants, turning the rampant growth out of the canyon-like furrows, and irrigating the patch daily. The picking was handled by a black crew led by one Leo Johnson and his sidekick, a husky comedian everyone called “Bee-bop.”

Upon each successive picking, my brother, several of my friends from high school, and I picked up the melons, pitched them to each other in a line, loaded them onto a trailer pulled by a tractor creeping through the field, and hauled them into the yard, where subsequently the melons were tossed up to me one by one into a truck headed for a wholesale market in San José. We also supplied one of the grocery stores in town, earning as much as five cents a pound for our effort. That meant more loading and unloading, but a pickup load was child’s play at that point.

The plywood sign in this picture was nailed to a power pole on the main road a quarter-mile east of our house. The line under “melons” followed by an arrow reads “¼ mile.” As soon as it was up, people flocked to our yard, where we had set up a “watermelon stand” under the welcome shade of our mulberry tree. We sold a lot of melons that way, at retail prices — every farmer’s dream.

Now, what makes this a Christmas photo is the little round train track nailed to the back of the sign — because this piece of wood was first used as part of my Christmas present sometime around 1961 or 1962. The train itself was very small and heavy. It consisted of an engine, two freight cars, and a caboose. There was also a snowcapped tunnel no more than eight inches high and a foot long. I was thrilled each time the train disappeared briefly into one end and emerged from the other. So were my brothers. So was Dad.

[click to enlarge]

“Watermelons” added to Penny Thoughts and Photographs.


Elisabeth said...

That' some picture you have there. It reminds me of certain rooms in my house, temporarily used for storage, including the one I'm sitting in at the moment - my writing room - the one into which I toss everything when I'm trying to make certain other rooms in the house respectable for christmas visitors and when I don't have the time or energy to figure wherever else I might put them. Like the Queen size mattress we bought for one of my daughters for her birthday in November which she then decided makes her room look too full and therefore no longer wants. She'll stick with her old bed instead. A friend has told me she'd love to buy it from us for her son, but it needs to stay put in what we call the TV room (a TV once lived in this room but not any more) until after the New year.
Needless to say it fills almost the entire room.

The room in your picture reminds me of attics and warehouses and the like. For every item there is a back story and it is the back story like the one you tell of growing, hauling and selling melons that are so fascinating.

Thanks for sharing your Christmas story of the train set you enjoyed, another story within a story and I'll bet there are many more there besides.

We're into Boxing Day here now, the day after Christmas and can now tell more stories about another Christmas day gone by. It was fun and peaceful as it turns out. Everyone enjoyed themselves here. No major disruptions for us, but boy am I tired.

I hope you enjoyed yours.

William Michaelian said...

We did, and we too are tired, and because we went to bed so late I “overslept,” sleeping in until 5:30, which for me is late, but the lateness was just enough to accommodate another strange dream, and I just finished writing it down.

The picture was taken in our garage. The sign has been there since my mother moved here in 1995, but most of the other stuff is ours, having moved to this house in July. The wire magazine stand by the E used to be in the bathroom of my childhood home. The bread box one shelf down is quite old, and was salvaged by my mother from an old Armenian’s house when he died; we have some other things from there as well, he being an old-timer in the area that we knew fairly well; and to the left of that there’s an even older toaster, the kind that you put the bread in from the side.