Water Melon Contest
by Stanley McQueen
My Dad’s name is Walter Johnson and if ever there was a man who loves a contest, my Dad is the one.
Every year he would enter the County Fair contest. He loved growing watermelons but each year someone always beat him out with a bigger melon.
He swore that this year he would win…or bust a gut. It’s after May, now, and Pa has planted a patch of watermelons in the hope that his glorious giant melon will not only crown him the winner, but will also make him the talk of our little township, Muddy Fork.
Ma can hardly stand being around him after the watermelon patch is planted. He gets her up at four in the morning, and then goes out with a flashlight to check on their progress. She thinks he might be losing his mind. He is so fretful during watermelon season that he is impossible to get along with. We kids can barely ask him a simple question without getting our heads snapped off.
Ma told us kids, “If Pa don't win this year, he might just go off the deep end and kill his fool self or something.”
Pa ordered special watermelon seeds this year that came by mail from Florida. He paid a hundred dollars for one packet and Ma blew her stack.
He won’t let us kids venture a hundred feet near the watermelon patch, he’s so afraid that we might step on the vines or something. He guards his melons like a setting hen guards her baby chicks.
In late August, and almost time for the County Fair, Pa told us at supper that he had a melon in his patch that was almost as big as a fatted hog. He allowed us to follow him to the patch to have our first look at the watermelons, and he was right - it was a whopper. It lay there right in the middle of the patch - a huge green monster melon! Pa stood there looking at it, as proud as if Ma had given birth to another child.
“This year, kids,” he declared, “I am winning the two hundred dollars, and we are all going on a trip to see my brother, Clarence, who lives in Ohio. And your Ma is getting that new dress she has been admiring at the trade store in Muddy Fork township.”
I prayed this would come true, as Pa was sure set on winning this year’s contest.
It came to the last night before the fair and the watermelon contest. Pa wanted to take his bed outside so nobody would steal his prize melon, but Ma refused, saying the night air would make them both sick. Pa listened to her and didn't set up their bed out at the patch, but I didn't expect him to sleep a wink, so fired up was he about the contest.
The next morning, we all ate breakfast real early so we could head off to the fair. Pa gobbled down his food like a starving wolf, and lit on out to check his prize winner. After no more than five minutes, we heard Pa cussing - and the sound was coming from his watermelon patch.
Ma and every one of us kids hurried out to see what was the matter with Pa. When we found him, he was cussing and hollering at the top of his lungs, screaming that someone had stolen his big melon.
None of us said a word, not even Ma. Pa’s grey hair was sticking up every which way and he looked like a wild man. We watched with big eyes as he busted every melon in his patch, ranting and raving bloody murder.
Melons were flying like rockets, hitting everywhere and busting into red, wet pieces. Ma warned us not to say a word, or we might be killed by a flying piece of fruit.
Finally, Ma got up enough courage to walk over and slap the daylights out of him, which momentarily brought him to his senses. He was vowing to kill the person who’d stolen his giant melon.
“It just isn't fair,” he kept ranting. “It just isn’t fair.”
After a while, he just sat on the porch stoop and looked out toward the melon patch, not talking to anyone. From the looks of him, he appeared to be in a trance.
Despite the tragedy of the stolen melon, we were like any other kids - we wanted to go to the fair. We begged him to take us, explaining that we loved the cotton candy, the pop, and all the people and contests. It was hard to get him to agree but Ma, she told him to stand up and be like the man she married and take his loss like a man oughta.
After sprucing ourselves up a little, we all loaded into the back of Pa’s old farm truck.
When we arrived, the fair was in full swing. There were beautiful cattle, hogs and chickens, and of course all kind of activities going on.
Ma convinced Pa to attend the watermelon contest anyway, just to see who would win this year. It was hard work on her part, but Ma has her way with Pa!
We kids followed after them, and when we got there we saw a large platform had been set up, with watermelons of all shapes and sizes lined up like soldiers. It was a sight to see!
The judges began walking down the line, inspecting all the melons to decide which was the largest. After a while, one tall judge stood in front of the eager contestants.
“Folks,” he said, “it’s an honor to announce the winner of the watermelon growing contest this year.”
The crowd was hushed as he continued. “The winner of the blue ribbon and two hundred dollars goes to . . . Walter Johnson!”
Pa’s face lit up for a moment, but then his smile faded. “I never entered the contest,” he blurted out.
The judge nodded. “No, you didn't, Walter, but your brother, Frank, entered the melon in your place. Your brother is a water melon thief! He pulled a good one on you this year,” continued the judge, smiling.
Everyone applauded and shouted, and the men threw their hats in the air, shouting, “Walter Johnson finally won the watermelon contest! “
As they chanted, “For he’s a jolly good fellow,” the judge handed Pa a shiny blue ribbon and an envelope containing two hundred dollars.
The smile that wreathed Pa’s face is one that I will never forget as long as I live. Ma kissed Pa right on the smacker, and all us kids joined in the celebration.
Uncle Frank came over and said to Pa, “I pulled a good one on you this year.”
Pa smiled and replied, “Yes, my brother, you sure did.”
Frank explained to Pa that he had been afraid someone might steal the melon, so he decided not to take a chance on that happening, because he knew how much Pa wanted to win this year’s contest.
Pa hugged Uncle Frank around his neck again, and thanked him profusely. “Frank,” he said, “I want you to go with us to visit our brother, Clarence. He is getting up in years and
we need to visit him before he dies - or before one of us dies.”
“Sure thing, Walter. I’ll be glad to go with you and your wife and kids,” responded Frank.
“Yup, it’s high time we went for a visit,” added Pa.
We went to Ohio, just like Pa had promised, and had us a grand old time. Uncle Clarence showed us around, and we saw the Ohio River for the first time, as well as the place where they make washing powder. Ma wore the pretty dress she had always wanted, and Pa bought her a hat with fruit on the brim. Yes, it was a glorious time in our lives, the year that Pa won the watermelon contest in Muddy Fork County.