It seems that hot summer nights and ice-cold watermelon were made for each other.
My friend Bud and I were standing in front of the bowling alley where we often went to shoot pool. With us were four other boys that I had never met before. We were just standing around talking, and it seemed to me that most of the conversation centered on the realization that summer was over, and school would begin soon.
At some point the subject of watermelons came up, and we were all in agreement that a watermelon right now would taste pretty good. The talk then shifted to some of the adventures they had had stealing watermelons, of being peppered with rock salt from the shotgun of an angry farmer, and of narrow escapes.
Then one of the boys spoke up saying that he knew of a farm where we could get a watermelon. "I know this guy." I heard him say, "He always has more than he can sell, and will let us go out and pick a couple."
We all got excited, and it was quickly agreed that we should go out there. There was one kid that had a car, and we all climbed in. I found myself in the middle of the back seat, I would have preferred being by the window, but at least I got to go.
At that time, the area west of Ogden, Utah was all farmland. There were orchards with apples, peaches, cherries and apricots. Others grew corn, tomatoes, potatoes and, of course, watermelons.
It was quite late when we started. We drove down the dark country roads, with only an occasional light from a farmhouse to mark our path. Then after turning down one road, the driver reached over and turned off the headlights. Why did you turn the lights off one boy asked, and was told that out here they can see you coming for miles, and would be suspicious of a car stopping along the road.
We continued for about another mile, creeping down the road faintly illuminated by moonlight. As we approached a small grove of trees, the driver pulled over and parked, and we all climbed out.
Somebody started asking questions, and was quickly shushed. "We'll have to be quiet," someone said. "We don't want to get any dogs barking."
Along side the road there was an irrigation canal about four feet wide. On the other side was a fence about four feet high. We all easily jumped the canal, except for one kid who misjudged the distance and slipped and almost fell in.
As we climbed the fence we made another discovery. The farmer had cut another canal on the other side of the fence. This one was only about three feet wide, and was easily jumped.
The field had been plowed with furrows running parallel to the fence. Apparently the field had been irrigated that day because the furrows were still muddy and some were filled with water in some places.
The watermelons had been planted in an area about a hundred feet from the fence, and we had to pick our way through bean or tomato plants or something that would grab at our ankles as we hopped from one row to the next.
I was nervous and apprehensive as I crossed that field. I had expected that we would stop at a farmhouse, and someone would tell us it was okay to pick a few. Now I began to wonder if we were doing the right thing. I just knew that if we were caught, that some farmer would be awfully mad. Finally we reached the watermelons and we all spread out, each looking for a ripe watermelon.
I did not have much experience in selecting a watermelon, and had to ask how I could tell if the melon was ripe. It had been explained to me during the drive out that you had to rap on it with your knuckles. If it made a sound like a bass drum slightly out of tune, then it was ready to pick. I wasn't sure what an out-of-tune bass drum sounded like, but I was reluctant to pursue the point for fear of sounding like a fool.
I had tested several melons until I found one that made a deep thunk, thunk noise when I tapped it. It took me a while to break it loose from the vine, and as I picked it up, we heard a loud voice shout voice, "Hey! You kids get out of here!"
We all began to run. At first I started going in the wrong direction, and had to reverse course. As I jumped from row to row, I got tangled in vines, slipping and falling as I tried to make a hurried exit.
Suddenly there was a loud "kaboom." It sounded like a cannon in the silence of the night. As I ran, I had visions of rock salt penetrating my behind. I flew the remaining distance to the fence. I have no memory of climbing the fence or jumping the canals, but apparently these hurdles were cleared without difficulty, and I soon was back at the car with the others.
We must have made a pretty comical sight. We were all wet and covered in mud. Some were upset. They had dropped their prizes when we had been caught, and were complaining that we had nothing to show for our efforts.
"I got one," I said. They all looked at me in surprise. I was reluctant to admit that I would have dropped mine also, if I had thought about it, but at the time I had been so scared that my only thought was to get out of there.
We all got in the car. It was decided that we would go over to a spot on the bank of the Weber River where we could wash up and eat the watermelon.
Most of the bank along the river is covered with trees and rocks. The spot they had chosen was wide and flat. During the day it was a favorite swimming hole, and at night lovers would come and park to watch the submarine races.
We climbed out of the car, and with only stopping to take off our shoes jumped in and began washing the mud off. Then we took our clothes off and swam a little in order to get ourselves clean.
When I climbed out, I found that someone had started a bonfire. We hung our cloths over branches and rocks to dry. Someone had found a piece of cardboard, and our driver produced a machete that he kept in the trunk of his car.
The watermelon was sliced into six pieces, and we all grabbed a piece. We sat there around the fire in our wet underwear, laughing about the night's adventure. I just sat in silence savoring every bite.
Since that night I have had many occasions to eat watermelon. But I have never since tasted any that was as sweet and refreshing as the one I ate that night.