Thursday, January 1, 2015

Spittin’ Watermelon Seeds

Another of my short stories this week. Hope it tickles some childhood memories and takes you back a few years.
Common Carrier Photo courtesy of Google Image Search

“Ain’t nobody better’n me.”
Ohm Blake was talking about spitting watermelon seeds. His name was really Jerome, but the kids called him Ohm or sometimes Doodoohead. He was wearing bib-and-brace overalls without a shirt. The sprung brace on his left shoulder wouldn’t stay hooked to its brass button and hung down his back like a weird floppy arm. He smelled like old farts and toe jam.
I snatched up his dare. “Bull crap. I can spit longer’n you any day.”
“George, if you takin’ me on, you gotta make it worth my while." He paused. "Like your Swiss army knife.”
I backed off. Uncle Cage gave me that knife just before he shipped out and got killed in the war. “Nobody gets my Swiss army knife. Besides, you don’t have nothing near what that knife’s worth.”
Ohm fished around in his overalls and came up with a big pocket watch. Gold with spidery black numbers on a pure white dial, the watch had “Waltham” printed just below the “12.” Thin ebony hands marked the time. A longer, even slimmer sweep hand raced steadily around the watch. Man, it was beautiful.
My pal, Buddy Oates, brought me back to earth. “Where’d you get something like that? You stole it, didn’t you?”
“Didn’t, neither!” Ohm shouted. “My granddaddy give it to me on my tenth birthday last month. He carried it when he was a train conductor. His official Railroad Chro-no-me-ter.”
Wow! A chronometer! That had to be way better than a watch. All of a sudden, I just had to have that timepiece. It had kept a train running on schedule for years and years. “You’re on. My knife against your chronometer.”
There were four of us. Me and Ohm. Buddy and Ohm’s pal, Harry. Five, really, because this big old crow was perched atop a telephone pole taking a good deal of interest in us. The birds were scavengers. Thieves. No-goods.
Watermelon seed spittin' contests had a strict set of rules. Best two out of three. Show your spitting seeds to the other guy before you store them in your mouth. Can’t touch them again with your hand. Stand behind a line you can’t cross. Take no more than two steps forward and spit. Seed’s gotta land over another line ten feet out in front. The winner is whoever lands farther behind that one. If two seeds come out of your mouth at the same time, or if you can’t spit three seeds for any reason, you lose.
Buddy and Harry scratched out the two lines while Ohm and I dug into two slices of juicy red watermelon. I buried my face in my slice and chewed a big hunk of the sweet meat, carefully culling the seeds and storing them in my cheek. Then we swiped our mouths with the backs of our hands and spit out the seeds into our palms to select the right ones. I wanted a good solid seed. Not the biggest; not the smallest. But a good spittin' seed had to have some bulk.
After I made my selection, I eyed the crow on the pole. “What’s he hanging around for?”
Buddy studied the bird a moment. “I think he likes that pin on your cap.”
I’d paid a quarter at the Five-and-Dime for this little pin that spelled out “George” in shiny letters. It looked good fastened to the front of my baseball cap.
We played rock-scissors-paper to see who went first. Rock crushed scissors, so Ohm got behind the line, stuffed three seeds in his mouth, and got set like he was running a foot race. He took two steps, and with his head way out in front his chest, let go. “Pttt-tu!”
It was a good one, landing six inches over the line.
I got into position and dug around with my tongue to select a seed. It felt smooth on my tongue. After a couple of deep breaths, I darted forward. “Ptoo-ey!”
Not good enough. It landed half an inch short of Ohm’s seed. He gave a big smirk that said “nice try, shmuck” before making his second launch. It fell short of his first seed. Short of mine, in fact.
I lined up and let go without even taking my two steps. My big, black seed flew through the air and landed beside his. Then it scooted about a quarter of an inch beyond. I’d taken the lead.
Ohm scowled and shrugged his shoulders to loosen up, making his sprung brace wiggle like a dog’s tail. Then he gave it everything he had. Man, did he spit! His seed flew through the air, landed, and bounced once. About a quarter-inch beyond my mark.
I took my position. This was it. My prized knife was at stake. I got set and …
Buddy let out a yell. Startled, I glanced up and saw the crow heading for me. I ducked as the bird’s claws snatched for my cap. He missed and flew off, cawing all the way.
As I took my position to start over again, I realized there wasn’t a seed in my mouth. Then something squeezed past my Adam’s apple. I started coughing like crazy, but that seed kept on going down my craw, even when Buddy thumped me on the back. Oh, man, I was gonna have a watermelon growing in my belly.
Ohm brought me back to reality with a big grin on his fat face. “Go on, spit. You can’t, can you? You swallowed the seed.” He jumped up and down and clapped his hands. “He did! He swallowed the seed. I won! I won. Gimme my knife.”
“Geez, Ohm, that crow took him by surprise.” Buddy said. “Be a good sport.”
Ohm put his finger across his lips like he was thinking. Then he gave an ugly grin. “Nope. He knows the rules. You can’t spit the third one, you lose.
My mom never asked about her brother’s knife, but she musta wondered about it because I was always hauling it out and using one of the blades to work on something or the other. But I figure I came out ahead anyway. Sure, I lost my uncle’s prized knife, but I learned what Mom called a “life lesson.” Don’t risk what you value most, no matter the temptation. Sorry, Uncle Cage.
By the way, I didn’t end up with a watermelon growing in my belly. Another Old Wives’ Tale bit the dust.

I don’t know about you guys, but this takes me back to Oklahoma in the summertime. Any day we could get a watermelon was a good one. My grandfather grew the biggest, plumpest, juiciest melons I ever tasted. He even grew some of the yellow-meat kind, but I preferred the red. Don’t know why. They tasted about the same.

As always, everyone … thanks for reading. Look around the site while you’re here, and give me some feedback on the story.


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