• Gretel Enck

The Middle Aged White Lady’s Little Book of Watermelons

Updated: Jun 19

In honor of Juneteenth, I bought myself a watermelon to have something red to eat, which reminded me of this unfinished treatise holed up on my google drive. So here it is.



Chat (Summer 2019)


Holly (dispatcher at a big National Park in Montana)

I was laughing this morning cause one of my seaseonals is recently retired as the librarian for Montana State University…and I was telling him that my friend gretel would approve and would hope that he could sort out my grammar problems

Gretel (me)

excellent

a dispatching librarian

Holly

yeppers

he will not accept my combo of rain and snow…snain

Gretel

because row is already taken

Holly

he is a dispatcher now…so that means he carrys many plastic bags of food around carries

see I can correct my own errors

Gretel

i have taken to making whole 30 chicken salad with homemade mayo, grapes, almonds, red onion, and celery. I have the PERFECT plastic container for it

Holly

did you know that there is such a thing as a “hollyism?”

Gretel

i have no doubt

Holly

I learned this from our Chief Ranger…he told me that he used a “hollyism”: the other day.

Gretel

what was his example?

Holly

I can’t remember what it was though because I was so in awe of the fact that they exist

Gretel

red thing blue thing?

Holly

no…but…

Gretel

oh look, a chicken?

Holly

it was actually thing red and thing blue

he he he

so what is the perfect plastic container

?

Gretel

right

it’s only perfect because it is the perfect size for chicken salad, and it has a screw on lid

Holly

seriously…the scrids are the best

I need those because the snap on kind don’t stay snapped

Gretel

scrids ARE best

Holly

yep

Gretel

Your garden looks beautiful, btw

I’m picking away at mine

Holly

we had a call for a ranger to respond to someone masturbating in a parking lot in broad daylight the other day

oh thank yhou

Gretel

so somebody else was picking away at something too

people are so horrible

Holly

yes…except he wasn’t actually masturbating he was looking for ticks

because you have to do that very thoroughly around here because of goats

Gretel

hahahaha oh the poor man

Holly

however..perhaps a better location…other than a parking lot

Gretel

picking away

Holly

yes…

Gretel

tick picking away

tick picking away

Holly

yes.

Gretel

the nearer the other visitors

Holly

Dan got two ticks when he was up in that area working over the past few weeks

Gretel

the more we’re tick picking away

Holly

um…

Gretel

tune of slip sliding away

paul simon

Holly

there seriously could be a song for EVERYTHING

and yes…I did get that one…which makes me happy

Gretel

I miss being around smart funny people in the workplace

Holly

yeah…sigh me too…thankfully I have 6 in my office because there aren’t any others here

Gretel but I don’t want to work at a real park; then I would have to care

and ps you are cutting into my goofing off at work time

;)

Holly

well…if you watch parks and rec at some point then I will stop bothering you during your goofoff time and btw…I am looking at knitting patterns between traffic stops

Gretel

nice. I will have to check out that show.

Holly

so what is the origin of watermelon?

Gretel

you mean the name or the fruit

Holly

the fruit

Gretel

I love watermelon and I collect watermelon stories

Holly

Greg answered me in a perfectly straight face… “Antarctica” and then started laughing

I love watermelon too…it is special

I just ate some

O…..M…..G….guess what?

Gretel

I have the bryce canyon watermelon story, the grandfather watermelon story, the romania watermelon story, the love interest growing up with a watermelon-growing neighbor story, the weird eating watermelon in a dream out of ziploc bag inexplicably in the flophouse in Rockville/zion story

what?

Holly

OMG…ytou need to do a watermelon book

Gretel

clearly

Holly

OK…well…I JUST LEARNED TO USE A GAS LAWNMOWER.

it is so frickin fun

I want to mow EVERYTHIGN

EVERYTHING

Gretel

Oh…I love my battery operated weed whacker

You are the lawn mower menace. There’s a movie for that.

The Straight Story.

OMG I am going home tonight and write my watermelon book

Holly

I haven’t ventured into Weed Whacker land yet. Dan hid all the cutting tools cause he thinks I over-prune…so annoying…and I’m not allowed to touch the weed wacker…but we are easing into lawnmowing…

yes please write the watermelon book.

Gretel

I need an illustrator

?

Holly

I can totally draw an oval and put some dots on it

Gretel

I knew it!

Holly

greg just found out that Watermelon was depicted in Egypt in hieroglyphics.

Gretel

I am growing watermelons in my garden this year. growing (trying)

Hey look. I just learned how to bold on messenger.

Holly

again…it was probably easy to carve an oval into a rock

wow…that is cool, I didn’t know you could do that! I can’t grow melons really…the deer really like to eat them

if they grow at all

Gretel

I put up a fence to keep the javelina out.

test this * bold * except no space between the * and the word

my yard is tiny and easy to fence

you should write a story from the point of view of a deer who wants to eat your watermelons and I’ll include it in the book – or from the pov of a javelina, like yo bitch you think you’re gonna keep me out of your melon patch?!

Holly

OMG…such a great idea. I love javelinas…well…love the way they are shaped…I don’t know if I love their personalities

Gretel

I love them too. They are mean and they stink. What’s not to love.

Holly

well…the deer in my garden are going to have to watch out because my husband is becoming more and more feral by the day and he has every intent of using some of his deer tags in our yard

Gretel

From the bathroom window?

Holly

well…he has a more sophisticated plan for the deer. Seriously…hunting is ALL he talks about. SOmehow a conversation this morning about how pints of ice cream are now smaller than actual pints (as measurements go) led to the fact that our freezer is not going to be able to hold all the meat he is going to get this fall

Gretel

Oh, yeah, feral. Well and ice cream. I really only ever want to eat ice cream.

Holly

it was like going from zero to monkeys on the moon in less than a second

Gretel

HAAAAA

Holly

I had ice cream for dinner the other night

Gretel

That’s what we are left with: our favorite weirdos.

Holly

I chose peanut butter chocolate for the extra protien

yep

Gretel

Excellent choice. I like the cherry garcia for the fruit

Holly

hmmm…I just realized that zero to monkeys on the moon in less than a second would be an example of a hollyism

Gretel

and a most excellent example

Holly

yes

oh jeez apparently Rush Limbaugh came out with some stupid story and now his followers are calling and yelling at our front desk people

gotta go


Trent Harris


My friend Brian used to come over on Friday nights and we’d watch movies. This was back when Netflix sent you dvds in the mail. Brian had his own DVD of this movie by Trent Harris called Ruben and Ed. I knew the work of Trent Harris from living in Utah with friends who showed me his Plan 10 From Outer Space, a top-notch example of the niche Mormon Spoof genre. Ruben and Ed stars Crispin Glover as the weirdo Ruben—quintessential Glover—and Howard Hesseman as a would-be successful businessman who can’t see what his problem is. The movie is a quietly genius quest to bury Ruben’s dead cat. Ruben loved his cat. And in a particularly evocative dream sequence that finds Ruben lounging on an inner-tube in a vast sand pit Utah reservoir, wearing exaggerated platform shoes, his cat goes waterskiing by, having a ball. Ruben boasts out loud, “My cat can eat a whole watermelon.” Actually, “My cat can eat a whoooooooole WATERMELON.”


Brian had a cat when I met him. Actually, he used the cat to woo me, although he didn’t mean to. I stepped off the stage at a poorly attended open mic, and he was at a table. I asked him if he had a song for us. He smiled and said, “I only play at home for my pets.” One of our first weekends hanging out, we went to the shelter and got a cat for his cat. They were both yellow manx, and Brian thereafter swore that they could eat a whole watermelon.


I never asked what kind of watermelon. If Ruben’s cat, or Brian’s cat, could eat a watermelon, I never questioned but that it could eat the oblong giants of our youth. Any sissy cat could eat the little round ones.


Bryce Canyon


In the summer of my 33rd year I left New York City for my first job with the National Park Service—a randomly fated assignment at Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah. I took advantage of every opportunity to embrace my newfound western-ness: I bought an old Ford F-250 at a government auction, I ran the barrels in a local rodeo on a horse named Xena who knew a lot more about barrel racing that I did, I danced with cowboys and cooked dinner for wildland firefighters, and I took the Pulaski from the fire pit out back one day and drove out the plateau to chop the head off a road-kill, free-range Hereford cow. I wanted her skull for the front of my truck.


I already had in my truck the rear view mirror from an acquaintance’s old Dodge Dart. The prairie dog scientist bought an ugly gold K-Car at the aforementioned government auction. I asked him why: the Dart seemed to run fine. Yes, it did, he admitted. But it was rusting out underneath and the dogs were getting into it and stealing the seat stuffing. He didn’t care about the car, but he couldn’t abide impacting the behavior of his research subjects. The Dart was hauled off to the wrecker, but not before I removed the mirror to replace the missing one in my truck.


Another thing that I got with my truck was a laugh from my friend Loretta. She came for her season with a breaking down Ford Ranger that her husband thought would be appropriate, what with all the area’s dirt roads. When I got my truck, she joked that we could go adventuring together on our shared day off because if one of our trucks broke down we’d have a spare. Mine proved the worthier.


One day in August we got word of a vehicular mishap at the intersection of the road down the plateau from Bryce and the north/south highway to Panguitch. A truck with a bed full of watermelons had tipped over, there, by where the Sevier River meandered northward and a village of prairie dogs chattered to the passing traffic—forever after in my mind, the site of a watermelon windfall. Somebody at the park thought enough of us to commandeer watermelons for everyone. I don’t know how the whole thing went down, and why the driver couldn’t just load the good fruit back in the truck. Maybe they are like apples that drop on your kitchen floor: if you don’t eat them immediately they will go brown and spoil.


We each took our own melon and gorged on its sweet loving juice. Even in the height of gardening season, we lived a long way from anywhere. And it was my first summer a long way from anywhere. Those watermelons were gold.


Romania


I served in the Peace Corps in Romania. A common topic of conversation with Romanians was food, and in particular they were very proud of their country’s fruits and vegetables—all natural and local, not like imported, flavorless produce. And they were right: summer’s bounty was a gift.


In August, we were sworn in and sent to our sites. I boarded my bus, following a man dressed a bit over the top all in denim. The driver looked at my ticket and told me I was in seat 18 "langa caballero." Langa translates to "next to," and for those of you who speak Spanish, caballero means “gentleman” but literally translates to "cowboy." I did a double take as I realized the driver was mocking my perfectly pleasant seatmate. Later the driver stopped in the middle of the road to buy a watermelon from a roadside stand.

In my earliest days in Tulcea, walking the hills of my new city, I bought my own watermelon from a woman selling them out of her yard. When I started going to work every day, and climbing up and down a hill to get to my office, I stopped many afternoons on the downward approach to my street to patronize a man on the corner selling his bounteous garden harvest from a little wagon. I held out coins in my hand because I didn’t understand the price he quoted. He took so few that I never questioned his honesty. I thought, I can eat the whole thing for supper if I want to. And sometimes I did. When they were gone, it was a long wait for the next watermelon season.


The book The Geography of Bliss came out the year before I went to Romania, and it made the rounds of Peace Corps volunteers—largely because in his global search for happiness, the author summed up Moldova, Romania’s next door step-sister, as “Happiness is somewhere else.” He described the litany of depressive, post-communist hangover ways of being; yet found one cheery descriptive: “The fruits and vegetables are really fresh.”


Grandpa


My Danish grandfather never talked much. I don’t think he had the opportunity in his life with my grandmother. So when he did, it paid to listen. He especially liked to share a story he’d found in Reader’s Digest about some creative young folks who figured out how to cook a steak on the engine manifold of their car. They demonstrated the technique by driving from Edmenton to Calgary, Alberta—a drive of 300 kilometers. They flipped the steak half-way in Red Deer. Grandpa was born in Red Deer the last of a large brood of vagabond Danes. He had little connection to Red Deer, or Canada in general, so this mention of his birthplace caught his attention.


At my sister’s high school graduation party, on a sweltering June evening, my Dad’s wife—the one he dumped my mom for—made an offhand comment to my grandfather about how hot it was. The father of the first wife said to the second wife, “Hotter for some than others.”


Before and after the divorce, members of my parents’ families knit close ties. Cousin John from my Dad’s side told me a story once about being at my maternal grandparents’ big old farmhouse with the huckleberry bushes lining the front porch and the barns in the pasture down the way. A stately black walnut stood at the end of the walk, where it met the driveway. Like other men of introversion in my family, Grandpa spent many a winter day in the cellar cracking black walnuts; some people are suited to a bit of solitary confinement. Cousin John said the day he visited a walnut fell from the tree onto the pick-up truck that Cousin John and Uncle Jim had come in. That’s a harmless thunk: although straight from the tree the nuts can be the size of an apple, the outer casing is fairly soft. Grandpa turned to John and said, “Good thing watermelons don’t grow on trees.”


Dream


When I was in Romania, in the summer of my second year, I was having a correspondence with an interesting American man who happened to work for the National Park Service. He sent me mix CDs and nature books, and he felt like a lifeline to a better place.


I had a dream about him. We were in a bedroom on a mattress on the floor, eating snacks from a plastic bag I’d taken out of the refrigerator. Some of the snacks were slices of watermelon. The house was a real place, a giant two story house in Rockville, Utah, where many seasonal employees from Zion National Park found themselves living. Holly lived there briefly, and I must have visited her there. My friend and I ate our watermelon on the flophouse bed, laughing. Then the dream meandered away, as they do.


I told him about my dream in a letter. He responded with a story of his youth. He grew up in South Carolina, and his neighbor grew watermelons. He worked for the man, or he helped out the man, or somehow he was involved in the neighbor’s watermelon patch. The story is mixed up in the dream now, and equally enigmatic.


Zion


When one comes to Utah to work at a national park—as an outsider, a gentile, a progressive, and a disciple of nature—you receive pretty immediately from your new coworkers and neighbors a list of required reading of the great subversive creative work that belies the Mormon political and social domination: Ed Abbey, Terry Tempest Williams, and Ellen Meloy, for starters. And Everett Ruess. Ruess was a young dreamer from California who vagabonded around the Colorado Plateau area of southern Utah and Northern Arizona in the early 1930s. He left behind a collection of letters and diaries when he disappeared into the sunset in 1934. His words were of beauty and longing, curiosity and discovery, and a sort of affected struggle with poverty and the land. His words invite the reader to approach obsession in the pursuit of beauty, at the risk—in his case—of losing everything.


I was reading Ruess when I worked at Zion National Park with Holly. I was delighted that my favorite passage in the book was written when Ruess, too, was at Zion in August 1931. After an exploration of the Grand Canyon, he made a side trip to Zion Canyon: the details outlined in a letter to his family. A second letter tells about the terrible case of poison ivy he suffers while in the park. He writes about all the cures and methods he has tried, to no avail. His story of pain and suffering leads him to make a personal connection with the letter’s recipient, and then this paragraph:


My friends have been few because I'm a freakish person and few share my interests. My solitary tramps have been made alone because I couldn't find anyone congenial--you know it's better to go alone than with a person one wearies of soon. I've done things alone chiefly because I never found people who cared about the things I've cared for enough to suffer the attendant hardships. But a true companion halves the misery and doubles the joy.

The summers are hot at Zion. We passed three days that first summer that were 112, 112, and 114. I thought I would lose my mind.


The next summer, in 1932, Ruess was tramping in the Four Corners area where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah come together. With one packhorse freshly dead, he thought to care more solicitously for his remaining horse. Then within the same month, he was headed for Mesa Verde when his horse lost its balance on a narrow trail and fell into the roiling Mancos River. Aghast, Ruess leapt in after him and saved the horse and much of the gear. After taking stock of the catastrophe, spreading blankets out to dry and then piling them under a tarp when the rain started, Ruess made a rainy walk to the trading post.


“I told my story to the trader…A supply truck came and I helped unload watermelons. I borrowed a pair of socks, a rug, and canvas to sleep in, and returned to camp. I ate watermelon and peanut butter sandwiches, then turned in. Though I had not let it show, I really felt overwhelmed by what had happened.”


Fire Story


Fire as a metaphor for everything that is wrong.

Watermelon as a metaphor for everything that is sweet.


Untethered


Adventures of a vagabond: not sure what I had in mind here


Fraught: Black People and Watermelon


I go looking for a story I remember about the horrible, bitter, racist association that our culture has created of Black people liking watermelon. Is it from a Jesmyn Ward novel? The narrator is a young girl who finds herself in the company of her younger sister and a white man at a table in a restaurant. The younger sister is served watermelon, which causes her no end of delight. The man laughs, as does the narrator in grave discomfort, acknowledging to herself that her sister has not yet learned the fraught dynamics of watermelon. She just enjoys it.


My internet search leads me to poet Nikky Finney. She was a Lannan resident in Marfa a few years ago. I remember the season because I watched her on her morning walks out the window of an apartment I occupied briefly. Maybe the story came from a poem she read for us.


Instead, I find an essay by Finney calling out a white man’s casual slur. Jacqueline Woodson was being awarded a National Book Award. The presenter was a friend; he knew of Woodson’s watermelon allergy from hosting her in his home. In his presentation he chose to make a watermelon joke.


Woodson later wrote that the allergy she developed to watermelon may have been brought on by the “weight of the association”: caricatures and stereotypes meant to lessen the value of people of color. She described her winning book “Brown Girl Dreaming” as a tool for survival—for herself and for her readers—“a symbol of how strong we are and how much we’ve come through.”


Finney depicted the scene of the presenter telling the audience that Woodson, as a Black woman, was allergic to watermelon. “Let that settle in your mind,” he encouraged. Finney shared her response: “I found myself staring at my laptop and choking on a waterfall of watermelon seeds.”


This was not the story I was looking for, but a story I needed. To Woodson, those words and their timing robbed her of the recognition of her work and reminded everyone where she came from. The presenter believed “we were at a point where we could laugh about it all.” But Woodson knew better. Finney describes being “born into this violent and strange Black people and watermelon world. I grew up hearing and seeing watermelons, not as ruby sweet fruit, but as a strange fruit slung into my face and hanging from trees as accompanying racist representation of Black people.”


Then Finney mentions in her essay that her students are reading Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. That’s it!, I think, and I find my copy on my bookshelf. Did Rankine tell the story I’m looking for? Alas, she did not. And yet, and yet, I am grateful to pause again over her words, a bruised litany of violence against Black bodies, like this (quoted from CNN after Katrina): “We never reached out to anyone to tell our story, because there is no ending to our story, he said. Being honest with you, in my opinion, they forgot about us.” And this: “Interviewed by Brit Piers Morgan after her 2012 Olympic victory, Serena is informed by Morgan that he was planning on calling her victory dance ‘the Serena Shuffle”; however, he has learned from the American press that it is a Crip Walk, a gangster dance. Serena responds incredulously by asking if she looks like a gangster to him. Yes, he answers.” Ugh.


I peruse my book shelf. It’s not Roger Reeves; I remember a woman’s voice.


Vievee Frances? Yes! Another Lannan writer, she read for us last summer when I was reading Jesmyn Ward. And here it is, a poem called Salt. It is mostly how I remember. The narrator is caught in the man’s gaze. “A whole history rides / the vehicle, the mule train, the wagon, the dust / track of my sister’s outburst. And we begin / to laugh, hysterically. He for all the expected / reasons. And I, I laugh because somewhere / I want to cry.”


Now it’s just me in this room, books and words, pretending that witnessing counts, educating myself counts. Maybe it helps, but it doesn’t change the fact that I can be unabashed in my praise of the bounty of my summer garden and the touchstone to a life where privilege isn’t measured in money or access to power, simply in the freedom to eat a sweet, juicy fruit without the cruel and casual commentary.


Watermelon Natural History


https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Watermelon


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