I have a confession.
I don’t like watermelon.
I hesitate to even mention it because the declaration is usually met with disdain, shock and a fair amount of disappointment. I know; it’s hard to believe.
“Doesn’t everyone like watermelon?” people feel compelled to ask.
The answer seems obvious.
But even I admit, to look at my life one would assume that I’m a watermelon-eater. I grew up in the Watermelon Capital of Wise County – Alvord. Folks would come from far and wide to visit the fruit stands that lined U.S. 287 to the north and south of our little town. Before them would be a bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables, but the region was perhaps best known for its watermelons.
When I was a kid, the community started an annual festival to celebrate the summer fruit. There were seed-spitting contests, watermelon-eating contests, a watermelon weigh-in and even watermelon queens.
I participated in the pageant a time or two, sported watermelon festival T-shirts and frolicked in the revelry of it all, but the fruit rarely crossed my lips.
My aversion to the melon – and all other melons for that matter – made me an outcast not only in my community, but among my family.
Eating watermelon was an “event” with the Talleys. When I was a kid, my family regularly camped with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins at Lake Texhoma, and at least one afternoon of every trip, the whole bunch sat down to eat watermelon.
Newspapers would be spread across the table under a shade tree, and everyone would pull folding chairs up around it. A watermelon, picked with the greatest of care, would be presented with the same reverance as a Thanksgiving turkey. My dad would wield the biggest knife I had ever seen and cut the watermelon to the “oohs” and “ahhs” of all that gathered.
It was a Norman Rockwell moment, but somehow I felt like an outsider.
Every year I would try a slice, thinking “Maybe this is it – the year my taste has changed.” But it never happened. I always resorted to eating cookies just so I could join them at the table – a sad, sugary snack.
For a while my dad actually grew and sold watermelons himself, and I even had a dog that stole watermelons. He would sneak into the neighbor’s pasture, sink his jaws into an overly ripe melon and toss his head back as far as he could to balance it all the way home.
Even the dog ate watermelon, further fueling my determination to blend in.
Over the last two decades I have tried watermelon every summer to no avail. Now the ritual takes place at my parents’ lake house. The newspaper is spread, a melon presented and then cut by my father. My mom almost always offers a hopeful, “Oh, this is a good one!” thinking this could be my year.
To make matters worse, I married a man who doesn’t like watermelon. I felt compelled to try even harder because, what if our children were genetically predisposed to dislike watermelon? The family tradition would surely die.
But to my delight, and that of my parents, we discovered a few summers ago that the little Tribes do, in fact, like watermelon. Now they sit with my parents around the newspaper-covered table and enjoy the fruit of summer, fully participating in the family ritual.
I’ve made peace with the fact that the watermelon gene can skip a generation. Instead of working so hard to be what I’m not, I just encourage my children in their watermelon-eating ways.
As I sit on the sideline, eating cookies.
Kristen Tribe is news editor of the Wise County Messenger.