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.