“Plant a watermelon up above my grave,
And let the juice, ‘Slurp’ through.
Just plant a watermelon up above my grave,
That’s all I ask of you.
Now a chocolate chip cookie.
It tastes mighty fine.
But nothing’s quite as pleasing as that watermelon rind,
So plant a watermelon up above my grave,
And let the juice, ‘Slurp’ through.”
I thought of that song in Sunday worship service of all places. My mind was kind of wandering, not during the sermon but before church began, and I thought about learning that song a long time ago at the White Springs United Methodist Church during summer Vacation Bible School.
In those days of the mid-sixties in the very small town South of White Springs, Florida, we had the springs, the river, and during the summer we had Vacation Bible School. The Baptists and Methodists flip-flopped the summer event. The late “Cousin” Thelma Boltin came in and taught us that song, and, of course, so you won’t think we there learning completely secular music, we also learned the traditional songs for Bible School that were popular then.
“I’m too young to march in the infantry,
Ride in the Calvary,
Shoot the artillery,
I’m too young to zoom o’er the enemy,
But I’m in the Lord’s Army.”
Well that was long ago through the mists of time, but I will relate to you an interesting tidbit that “caught” my attention not too terribly long ago on social media, and it was a clipping of a newspaper article close to 100 years old. The article stated that the Live Oak Perry and Gulf Railroad the Loping Gopher or LOP and G, as it was called, had transported some twenty-three railroad cars filled with watermelons primarily from the Live Oak Railway Station. Lots of watermelon.
Tobacco, flue cured tobacco, is discussed a great deal, and, rightfully so, as it was the primary cash crop of this area for over three-quarters of a century and nothing, nothing, in the area was filled with the same kind of electricity as the opening auction day at area tobacco markets.
The sing-song chant of the tobacco auctioneers, everyone from all parts of the various counties came to town for the tobacco sale. “Forty-five, five, six, give me six, seven and seven, Sold American.” That was the top song on the hit parade for this area for many, many years, but back to watermelons.
A lot of watermelons were grown in this area. South and central Florida produced its citrus and other crops but north Florida counties, even those that didn’t produce tons of flue cured tobacco, had watermelons. How many towns had Watermelon Festivals: Newberry, Chiefland, and I think Monticello.
Watermelon brokers came and purchased watermelons and the work of loading watermelons was labor intensive and hard, and I can still see it. I can relate one thing to you. There would have been no time in a tobacco field nor a watermelon field for those employed to have kept a cell phone attached to their head. Recently, I had a gentleman who employs a good number of workers tell me he had to fire an employee who simply could not let that cell phone go. Well, that’s an article for another time.
In today’s world, we see photos, glossy photos of watermelons in many popular periodicals and sometimes these photos are accompanied by recipes, “Watermelon Salsa,” “Refreshing Mint Watermelon Cooler,” “Watermelon and Tomato Salad with Balsamic Dressing.” Boy has watermelon become versatile in recipes, and I know that’s great for those who produce this seasonal fruit.
I can mainly remember looking forward to the cutting of that first ripe watermelon of the season.
The first varieties I remember were old fashioned “Cannonball” and “Stone Mountain” watermelons.
I can also remember my maternal and paternal grandmothers making watermelon rind pickles, delicious.
Now, I will shift gears, so much in the news about 1969, and it was quite a year. It’s hard to believe that 50 years ago, we had men land on the moon, and that the greatest gathering of Rock and Roll Artists assembled at Woodstock in upstate New York. The Beatles gave their last public performance, the first withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam began. A lot was happening in that year.
Here “Around the Banks of the Suwannee,” a major employer in the area, Occidental Chemical Company, had been “cranked” up for about four years, north of White Springs, providing employment to many individuals, the springs, Suwannee Springs, White Springs, and others were still flowing full blast, and just as now there is a HOPE program being sponsored at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, in those days there was a program of Arts Immersion funded by the Federal Government and Florida Department of Education at South Hamilton Elementary School during the summer months. This program went on for several years, and the then-Stephen Foster Memorial Commission was one of the driving forces behind it.
Many areas of the fine arts were introduced and taught to children from several surrounding north Florida counties who were all part of the grant, and school buses transported the children from the various counties each day to participate in learning about drama, theater arts, visual arts, music and dance. Dr. Gardner from then-North Florida Junior College was in charge of that program and the program brought the late Mr. Earl Varnes, a longtime and distinguished educator to White Springs, and I believe Barbara Edwards worked with that program. Many students attended, including my brother, my cousins, and I think I was given emancipation for a day or two from the tobacco fields to attend. It was a marvelous, well-organized program and proof that the “moon” was the limit at the time, so the idea of “magnet schools” is not a new concept, there’s just a new name associated with it. It was being done a half-century ago. The courses were taught by certified teachers and interns from some of the finest fine arts programs in the nation. We were fortunate to have such a program housed in north Central Florida.
Well, folks, take some time and remember July 20, 1969, the day of the moon landing, maybe fire up an old copy of the Beatles “Abbey Road” album that was released that year, enjoy a slice of ripe watermelon, and keep HOPE alive in your own heart and share that HOPE with others, as you share it with me.
From the Eight Mile Still on the Woodpecker Route north of White Springs, wishing you a day filled with joy, peace, and, above all, lots of love and laughter.