Monday, January 17, 2011

My childhood is divided into two parts. Part one was during the years that I lived in a real house. Part two runs a fair distance into adulthood, where I lived in the store (the back of my parents store) or dorm rooms or trailer houses. The dividing line was about the age of ten when my parents had to sell the house at the edge of town to pay off debts.
    During part one, I remember Daddy stopping at roadside vendors. Remember the big trucks loaded with watermelons from the Rio Grand Valley? They would slice up their product, or cut a plug, and offer you a taste as inducement to buy. Then Daddy would get the biggest lower priced melon and haul it home. The watermelon went into the refrigerator. Mama would have to rearrange the food and remove one of the shelves to fit it in. Next day it was sliced into four equal size pieces and we ate it. Yum! Yum!
    Because we did it that way, my brain was programmed to think that was the way to eat watermelon. After part one of my life I have trouble remembering eating watermelon. What I do remember is the first violation of the proper way to eat watermelon.
    At a birthday party there were several kids, and, instead of cake and ice cream they had watermelon. The mom got out two or three melons and began to slice them up. When she had the first one cut in quarters I began to pick out my piece. Then she cut the quarters in half and the eigths in half. I could not believe my eyes. Even today, more than half a century later, I can feel my shock.
    When President Kennedy was assassinated a classmate came to the door of Mr. Bowen’s room and shouted the news... I can still see my hand on the desk. Part of that picture is the sink on the right and the chrome faucets on the left. in the background is the teachers table. I can still recall my thoughts, word for word.
    What that woman did to that watermelon, while certainly of no great importance to anyone but me, was just as shocking. I can still see the picnic table, The grass beyond, the woman and the knife Assassinating that watermelon. High hopes and expectations dashed. Crushed for half a century. I don’t even remember eating my tiny sliver of watermelon.
    The scene itself was the first of many such. Huge delicious watermelons reduced to slivers and served to many or reserved for future meals. And, they almost always recall that first abomination.
     Then some guy starts to worry about Marketability. Grocers can’t sell big watermelon that take up the whole refrigerator shelf at home. Housewives couldn’t even pick then up. Now all you can buy are the tiny seedless (big whoop-dee-doo) things... and they are sold by the pound. I take pride in never having bought a watermelon by the pound. I have never even picked one up. I even shun watermelon distributed by the slice, free or not.
    I tried growing them, up in Wyoming, but it was hard to get the 120 day product to grow in the 80 day season. As likely as not the blooms, The ones not eaten by the deer and the antelope, were frozen by early frost or smothered by bind weed.
     I finally started buying whole watermelon again, a couple of years ago, when our local grocer here in Town, began selling them for $3.99 each, even though they were smaller than a deflated vollyball.
     The store bought fruit reminded me of how much I enjoyed digging into a cold, juicy, sweet, quarter of a melon. With the “Ranch” in hand, I decided to till it up and plant a garden. Watermelons were the first seeds in the ground. The flood on Dry Coon Creek got them that year.
    Last year I planted late, but I bought a short season variety. The vines grew all over the place and competed with my pumpkins for space. These guys were just a shade larger than a softball. I got one or two to actually mature. Still they left a little to be desired. No, they left a lot to be desired.
    This year, while browsing a hardware store, I spotted a seed rack. On that rack were watermelon seed. Black Diamond watermelon seed. (Remember those huge, round, dark green melons? Those were Black Diamond.) I had to do this. I had to buy them. There were maybe 12 seeds in the $1.79 package.
    I planted 3 hills. One, count them, One seed came up and grew. It looked pretty sad but I still gave it water and fertilizer and pulled any weeds that came up. As a backup, I found more Black Diamond seed and planted them. They were late. They have some little melons on them now, in the first week of October. They are not going to make before frost.
    My one original seed eventually set nine melons. I picked the second biggest melon just before Labor Day. It was huge. It was not ripe, mostly white inside and no sweetness at all. Some unknown soul carried off the largest melon over the Labor Day weekend. I have taken some small consolation in hoping that person went to some effort cooling my melon and preparing to serve it, only to find it was nowhere near ripe. An unhappy thought sometimes prevails... that it was a bunch of kids who couldn’t tell a ripe melon from a green one, and happily ate the whole thing, never knowing the difference.
    Two days ago I picked the largest of my remaining melons. Events delayed my dealing with it until today. the melon was too large for our large refrigerator. It was cold last night so I put it outside to chill. This morning I wrapped it in a blanket to keep it cool. This afternoon I put in a  container and covered it with ice. After supper, Wife had to go to a meeting.
    So, here I was, all alone, with a huge, potentially delicious, cold, sweet, wonderful sample Of God’s creation. After fifty Years... I cut it into quarters, set one on a soup bowl and dug in. It was wonderful!
    I had to stuff the last few bites down, but I had done it. I had eaten a quarter of a huge watermelon.
    As I looked over the cleaned out rind, I began to experience satisfaction. Not so much that that comes from a good meal, as from a victory, the rebirth of a long suppressed tradition. I felt so good I almost cleaned the kitchen and took out the garbage.
    Even now, three hours later, I still have a warm glow of satisfaction, and I need pee, again.

Another Tornado

by Rob Watson

As you may know, tornado season begins here in Kansas about the end of April and runs through June or so. The average number of tornados that touch down in the state is 55 per year. Some years are more; 185 in 2007, almost none this year. But, like they say, it only takes one. This is about that one.

My friend Friend bought a house beside his daughter-in-law and grand children. Originally it was an investment. The house was torn down but the storm shelter remained. Friend began to fix the place up. He leveled the yard, seeded it, trimmed the trees and then started to fix up the storm shelter.

Friend painted the storm shelter inside. He put on a heavy door, counter-weighted for easy opening, and heavy bolts to keep it closed in a storm. The shelter was wired for electricity and supplied with radio, benches, and chairs, and other useful items. The shelter was covered with extra dirt and that was seeded. The outside was also decorated with a painted lattice to make it more attractive. The final touch was the addition of a huge jack to lift the door if anything large was blown against it by the storm. All things considered, it became a pleasant, attractive place inside and out. The shelter is about 8 feet by 12 feet. (You need to remember this for later)

I helped Friend some. The good people in the surrounding houses also pitched in from time to time. Friend, a man of good and generous heart, let it be known among the neighbors that the shelter was available for any who might need it, He christened it with a Pizza party... in the shelter.

As Kansas storms go this year's was not a large one. It grew up southwest of Small City and proceeded east by northeast. It dropped a tornado just south of Small City and that followed the highway towards our town. I saw the first warnings and watched the radar track of the storm as it headed this way. I began to prepare one of the closets in our loft as our shelter... water, valuables, the cat, etc. We could have gone to the basement, but, I thought, our building has walls nearly 30 feet high, 16 inchs thick, made of brick. If it blew down, as similar buildings did in Greensburg, I would sooner be near the top of the pile than near the bottom.

All Kansas towns, no matter how small, have a storm siren. Last year, ours, which was powered by regular electricity, failed to give warning of an approaching storm, because the tornado tore down the power lines to the town. The town went to sleep with the assurance, from our TV weatherman, that the second line of thunderstorms was not dangerous. He stated positively it contained no tornados. When one formed and headed this way our faithful police officer drove out in the middle of the rain and lightening and turned on his car siren as a warning. Nobody heeded the warning, though most heard it, because they did not know what it was for. That tiny tornado wrecked a farmers barn and some of the winds from another part of the storm blew over my fence. The town decided, afterwards, that they should invest $20,000 in a battery supported alarm system.

Our new warning system has the sirens on poles placed in four places around town. It is battery supported. This is good because the power failed here again this year while this year's storm was still some miles away. It was about 5PM. The sirens sounded and we, along with everyone else in town, scrambled for shelter.

The siren howled and howled. The one near us is about 300 feet away and was apparently designed to wake the dead. After about 15 minutes the thing shut off. I was reluctant to leave the closet because, by my calculation, there had not been enough time for the storm to pass from its last known location into town, much less pass us by. For those who do not know, tornados almost always occur at the trailing edge of the storm that generates it. Wife, began to wander around the loft and peek out the windows.

After another 15 minutes I, and the cat, came out of hiding and began to wonder how, exactly, we were suppose to know when the danger had passed. I guessed it must be whenever our great new warning system shut off. I came down stairs and began to look around. The business across the street is owned by the fire chief (volunteer). I went over and asked if my guess was correct. "No" he said "we shut it off because the batteries were getting low." Well, I guess that is all you get for $20,000.

By 5 PM, most days, downtown Town is deserted. This night, with the question of safety unresolved, it looked like the Christmas parade. Everybody and his brother was out driving around looking for ( or, perhaps, to be) storm damage. The fire chief reported that he saw the wall cloud (precursor to a tornado) pass directly over the center of town where our two buildings are located. Investigation showed a dozen or so power poles all in a row, a mile south of town, had been blown down. (A few days later, 20 miles away, I saw a new, large, metal barn had blown over on a farmer's quarter million dollar combine. His house and old wooden barn, nearby, were apparently undamaged.)

The next day I found Friend and asked if he knew how we were suppose to know when the storm had passed. He replied that there was supposed to be some sort of "All Clear" sounded. He had a battery powered weather radio in the shelter and followed the progress of the storm from it. The real all clear came about 6:00. Then I asked how his storm shelter had worked out. He replied it had worked out well... for 22 people and 7 varmints. (Cats and dogs)

Relative Safety

Relative Safety

Safe is a relative term. Suppose they had a tornado and nobody noticed. Would everyone still be safe? (Oh, remember the indian legend that Town was safe from tornados because it was between a river and a creek?)

On Memorial Day weekend, the day before Wife and I left for Wyoming, and my niece's wedding, Town was placed under a severe storm watch. The tv was lighted up with weathermen reporting on the storms. One line of storms passed us and dropped a tornado just north of Greensburg. (the town wiped out last year) There was a second line of storms approaching from the west but the weatherman said it would produce no tornados because...? So, Wife and I turned off the TV and prepared for bed. It was about 9:30.

The tornado north of Greensburg sashshayed its way through one of those big, three wire, power transmission lines and wiped out 18 sets of poles  cutting power to much of central Kansas. With power out and danger apparently passed we went to bed. ( all Kansas towns have tornado warning sirenes. Ours is less than a block from us and is plenty loud.) A few minutes later we heard a police siren off in the distance. It seemed to be standing still but blew continuously for a minute or two. We, and most people in town heard it and wondered what it was about. I went to sleep, secure in my own bed, with the sure and certain knowledge that all was safe.

Remember, I pointed out that Town was not really between a creek and a river? Both are actually south of town. The creek is on the southern border of town and the Arkansas river is a mile further south.

Well, with everyone in bed, and one poor lonely heroic policeman trying to give warning, a tiny tornado hopped and skipped along just south of Town between the river and the creek. (so much for Indian Legends) It blew down a few farm buildings and destroyed an expensive irrigation system. Our tornado warning system runs off regular power, with no backup. It never made a sound. Nobody knew we had been hit by a tornado until the next day.

I slept through the whole thing. Just like I slept through the earthquake that struck Wyoming when we lived there.

Wife and I got up about 5am the next day to head for Wyoming. When we got outside we saw our six foot wood fence was blown down. (just 20 feet in length) We said to heck with it and headed out. We heard about the tornado when I called a friend later in the day. A few days later Town got 3.5 inches of rain in one night.

From that time on all severe weather has started at the eastern county line and moved east. We didn't even get any rain from the last 4 or 5 storms to tear through the state.

The warning system failure has caused some discussion. The reason the police siren only lasted a couple of minutes is because the police chief told his man to go home and take care of his family. He says he will do the same in the future. The local civic clubs are discussing giving enough money for a second siren at the other end of town and a power backup.

For my own protection I am planning to burn some more tobacco for the Great Spirit... Maybe he will extend his hand over the area just north of the creek and the river.

PS Wife thinks I should go out and fix the fence... It has been three weeks.

The Christmas Parade

Dear Friends,
You may be wondering why I am writing about the Town Christmas parade while it is still going on...  First let me set the scene...

Town is a small town south and west of the middle of Kansas. By small I mean the business district is two blocks long. The whole day has been a successful series of events to draw customers into town. All the businesses had sales. There was a craft fair in three of the empty buildings. A church is fixing lunch and delivering orders to the merchants who would normally close for lunch. Half a dozen groups set up food booths in Main Street. Each featured a different cuisine. Even the lawyers office had a special deal going on: tax planning forms.

Wife had the Grand Opening of her store today. The newspaper showed up with a photographer and the Chamber of Commerce and ribbon to have the official ribbon cutting ceremony. Don't be too impressed with their organization though... the membership certificate they offered us during the ceremony had the other new businesses name on it. The chamber president hustled back to the other place and in two minutes all was corrected. We had about a hundred visitors and 50 paying customers.

Our building is about 25 feet from the dead center of town. We are on the corner of the intersection between the two blocks. At that point, the dead center of town, Town has set up a fair sized Christmas tree, along with enough sand bags to keep it from blowing away in the 40-mph winds we regularly have here... You have it now, right? Huge tree. huge pile of sand bags, Center of the intersection, center of town.  Twenty degrees, twenty mph wind, 6:30 p.m., Dark, with every float covered in lights.

The pre-parade parade included the Grinch who stole Christmas in his own sleigh, the Cat in the Hat, Big Bird, the Cowardly lion, and the Tin Man, drifting up and down the main street giving out candy. At the same time awards were being handed out for the clubs that decorated ALL of the windows of the businesses. There must have been several categories as I heard at least six first prizes awarded.

Suddenly, a dozen, middle age to elderly, men in mixed military uniforms came sweeping down the street bearing the American flag and the flags of Kansas and the American Legion. They were past me and down the street before I even thought to remove my hat and put my hand over my heart.

A minute or so later the grand marshall drove past in his bright yellow 1949 Studebaker pickup, with kids tossing candy. A minute or so later (next) a church float with a cardboard model of their church and an inflatable nativity scene and kids tossing candy, followed by a 1930's vintage fire truck carrying the volunteer fire department and kids throwing candy. Then... with kids throwing candy and ... with kids throwing candy... there was an enormous Snow plow with Santa... throwing candy... trying to get down the street without taking out the christmas tree or the corner of the building across the street. It was followed by an even larger vehicle with huge wheels and steerable axles trying the same maneuver. The marching girl scouts were the only kids NOT throwing candy. The Lawn Mower Racing Association (riding lawnmowers), making more noise than NASCAR thundered through town along with several, real life big-wheel dragsters. There were two dozen floats, all with  christmas trees, nativities, and wondrous displays of lights and decorations.

Now I suppose you are asking why I am writing while the parade is still going on? The answer is: Everyone had so much fun the first time, they circled the two blocks and came back (except for the men with the flags) for another go. the yellow Studebaker... the church and inflatable nativity... the snowplow... the girl-scouts, the dragsters, the Lawn Mower Racing Association  and on and on and on,,, all I can figure is the kids didn't get rid of all the candy on the first pass. I hear the dragsters and the racing lawn mowers shutting down, so festivities must be winding down.

Wife watched the second pass of the parade from our bedroom window. (We live in the loft of our business.) She says I missed the lawnmowers racing association's race around the Christmas tree... well, maybe next year.

There are a number of unused Catholic churches in the area. They were built by the German immagrants that settled the area in the last quarter of the 1800’s. All except one have a loyal volunteer group to keep it up. Every year, one has a concert featuring Handle’s Messiah. The stage, The alter of The Immaculate Heart of Mary Church... in the middle of nowhere. The church was the center of an immigrant German community which has now dispersed. It sits on the top of a hill. With the 100 foot spire, it is visable for many miles in any direction. The music was uplifting, moving, inspirational. 

What was the closing line from "A Christmas Carol"? Was it "...and ever after it was said Ebinezer Scrooge knew how to keep Christmas"?

Well, I'm thinking, Town knows how to keep Christmas.
Your friend, Rob