Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Watermelon For Dessert
Aunt Etta and Uncle Neil lived in a shotgun house they built in the middle of their farm in Arkedelphia. Etta's mother, a full blood Cherokee, came to Arkansas from Georgia in the early 1830s. She was part of the Old Settlers who left Georgia around the time of the Trail of Tears. She and her band settled near Arkedelphia because of abundant wildlife, fertile land, and good fishing on the Ouachita and Caddo rivers. The Cherokee band also chose the area because the terrain was similar to the home they had left behind. In the Eastern seaboard the Cherokee had raised corn and other vegetables, so they felt a kinship with the Cahinno tribe living in the Ouachita area who raised corn, beans, and sunflower seeds.
Etta's mother eventually married a French explorer and she and her husband slowly built a productive farm using horses and mules to clear some the land and aid in the plowing. They built a hand hewn log home, had five children, and lived off the land. The trail used by travelers coming from the East going to the Texas territories passed through the middle of their farm. Their farm provided supplies to travelers and they traded with travelers for what they needed. Eventually that trail would cut their farm in half to build Interstate 30. The farm and surrounding property values declined after that modernization.
When I was about ten years old we lived in California. Many summers I remember our family would travel to visit our relatives in Arkansas for the annual family reunion. We all met at Aunt Etta and Uncle Neil's farm. At that time my Aunt Etta and Uncle Neil had thoroughbred horses which were set out to pasture much of the year except during harvest time. Then they would round them up to help with all the work.
I remember we always had a big meal in the middle of the day. When it came time for the meal the women would call the men in from outside and they'd serve them up All the men would mosey into the front room to eat. Then the women would serve the children and we'd be sent to the porch to eat. The women would then serve themselves and eat in the kitchen. That was always the arrangement it was just understood. We had black eyed peas, beef brisket, corn on the cob, new potatoes, corn bread, poke salad, okra and more. I don't think I ever remember seeing so many different kinds of food at one meal. We were so happy to have all that food, we ate and ate till we couldn't eat any more.
After everyone ate we'd all go outside to sit under the trees and relax after the long meal. Since it was harvest time the thoroughbred horses were in the small corral behind the house. At that age I admired horses and all morning long I'd been dreaming of riding one of those beautiful horses. About that time Aunt Etta asked all the children if we wanted dessert. Mind you we were stuffed to the brim, but the word dessert conjured up visions of sweets extraordinaire so we all said sure. Aunt Etta brought us all into the house, then into her and Uncle Neil's bedroom. We all stood looking at one another wondering why we were in the bedroom for dessert.
Aunt Etta told us to look under the bed and roll out the watermelons. We rolled out a couple and stopped. Aunt Etta said roll them all out. Then she told each of us kids to take one for dessert. We politely tried to say we couldn't eat a whole watermelon, but Aunt Etta said just take one each. As we walked outside Aunt Etta said what you don't eat you can feed to the horses. So with the prospect of feeding the horses we each carried a watermelon to a nearby table and cut them open. We had a bite or two and then proceeded to feed the horses. The horses readily came to the edge of the corral to have a feast of their own.
My dream of riding one of the horses was bursting in my mind. I begged Aunt Etta and Uncle Neil to let me ride one of the horses. They asked me if I knew how to ride. I said, "Oh yes, I'm a very good rider". Truth be told I had only ridden horses once or twice in my life and those were the horses you rent which never go faster than a walk till they head back to the stable as fast as they can. I begged and begged so much finally Uncle Neil relented and brought one of the horses out of the corral for me to ride.
Uncle Neil lifted me up and I sat up on the horse bareback. I was high in the air and proud as a peacock. I looked around surveying the crowd of adults and other kids below me feeling so lucky to be the one who was up on the horse. Finally Uncle Neil said, "Go ahead and ride". Not knowing exactly what to do I quickly jabbed my feet into the side of the horse as hard as I could, like I'd seen in the movies and yelled "Yaw!" The horse started off at a full gallop in the small fenced yard. The horse was headed straight for the metal clothesline poles. Everyone in the yard jumped up and screamed because they immediately saw I'd be killed if I hit the poles.
Somehow without thinking I saw my predicament and ducked down close to the horse's back just in the nick of time. The horse and I barely cleared beneath the poles, as we exited the other side I quickly saw another hurdle. The yard ended with a fence and thick clump of trees beyond and there was no room for the horse to jump. Amazingly I pulled up on the reins and said, "Whoa". Thankfully the horse pulled up just short of the fence. My Uncle Neil ran over in a split second and eased me off the horse hugging me to his chest. Then he pushed me out in front of him and said "I think that's enough riding for everybody today". Needless to say no on else got to ride a horse that day.
Later that afternoon everyone sat around shaking their heads and marveling at my luck surviving such a ride. As I wandered around on the outskirts listening to the adult conversations, I heard several folks say Uncle Neil's horses were expertly trained to the reins. I learned a small flick of the reins would send his horses off to a leisurely trot but a jab in their ribs would make them ride full speed ahead like a horse running from an enemy or in a race for money. I haven't had any watermelon in years but today, since I've somehow made it to sixty two years of age, I decided watermelon for dessert would be good thing to have.