For decades, when summer melons rolled into the produce aisle, my mouth would water and I’d buy the biggest one. Unfortunately, not every watermelon is endowed with inalienable perfection, and I have carted home quite a few duds. Until I met Margaret in the produce aisle.
If this sounds like a soap opera, it’s because I had humongous twin melons strapped in the child seat of my cart. That’s when I saw Margaret. We slowed our carts, paused, and exchanged warm greetings. She had a single watermelon about the size of a soccer ball, a dark and glossy green one that reminded me of unripe fruit.
“Are you going to buy both of those?” Margaret asked me.
“And eat them too,” I replied, flashing a wide watermelon grin. “I hope they’re as good as they look.”
“Well, really, David, they don’t look all that good.”
I was shocked. Normally people who work at the library are quiet types who respect other people’s choices and try to help out when their advice is sought. Margaret had been this and more during the 20 years I had known her, but I’d never tried to talk with her over the business end of a watermelon.
Then I remembered who I was talking to: It was Margaret—kind, sweet Margaret—the lady who helped me through graduate school by locating stacks of resources, the Margaret who always says something nice about my latest column, the Margaret who has worked in our library since the library in Alexandria was burned by the Romans. That Margaret. I could trust Margaret.
“Honestly,” I stammered, “I don’t have a clue about choosing watermelons.”
Margaret looked at me with those sympathetic but all-knowing reference librarian eyes, picked up the melon from her cart, and held it as if it were a puppy. Then she instructed me in the art of reading watermelons.
First, look for the sugar spot on the bottom, yellowish or white, where the belly of the melon rested on the ground. The sugar spot says it will be sweet.
Second, the coloring should be glossy green, not pale or sickly yellow.
Finally, hold the melon up and thump it quickly as you would a drum; the vibration should radiate through the entire melon.
I stared at the pathetic twins in my cart: no sugar spots, both of them pale and resonating like bricks. Margaret sensed a dark shadow of realization crossing my face.
“Don’t worry, David, it’s very easy—try again.” Then she waved and moved on down the aisle.
To be literate and educated is never enough. The watermelons I loved were suddenly new. With my new knowledge, I rushed toward the pallet at the front of the store where they were confined in bins, waiting to be chosen. One of them—just one—would be perfect and waiting for me.
Of course, Margaret must have known what she’d done. Her eyes twinkled as she walked away, as if to say a seed has been planted. And planting seeds is so much easier than juggling watermelons.
The Oregon-based quarterly Small Farmer’s Journal provides small-scale farmers practical advice with wit, wisdom, and style. This column appeared in the Spring 2010 edition.