July Memories (Long Ago)
By Bill Shepard
Before anyone reads this, July 4, 2017 will be another milestone in history of this land we all love and appreciate so much. Just what does the 4th of July mean to you as a reader?
I asked that question of a group of young children once and here are some of the answers I received:
1. The day dad goes fishing.
2. The day we go to the beach.
3. Dad cooks in the backyard.
4. We all have a picnic.
The list continues. “Those are the things you do,” I said, “but what are you celebrating on this day?” Not one person in that group knew the reason they were celebrating on the fourth of July! So sad! As Gomer Pyle would say, Shame! Shame! Shame!
When I was a boy American history was taught as early as fourth grade, European history was taught at a sixth-grade level, and South Carolina history was taught in the seventh grade. The Sims History of South Carolina, taught in the seventh grade at St. John’s Elementary remained a “must” for many years after I was a boy attending school there.
The 4th of July is filled with memories but on the lighter side it stands out in my childhood years as “watermelon time!” Watermelons, not seen since September of the previous year! The big wagons loaded with the delicious fruit of the vine would begin to appear on the streets of the old mill village. Up and down the narrow dirt streets the wagon, pulled by one or two mules or horses, would travel. The old farmer, face burned brown from being in the hot sunshine so much, would call. Watermelons! Watermelons! The sound would echo up and down the streets and into the small village houses. The little boys and girls, along with their parents would gather at the wagon that would come to a halt. The children would be anxiously awaiting to see their parent select the watermelon they chose to buy and head back to their house. I could not tell the times that I lived out the experience I have written.
The largest of the melons were priced at not more than twenty-five cents each! Sometimes a small melon could be purchased for a nickel! My dad would usually buy the largest he could afford. He had been a farmer himself and knew what the purchase price of a watermelon could mean to a poor sharecropper!
Sunday afternoon, following the Sunday dinner, dad would take the melon he had purchased on Saturday and head for the long bench that rested in the backyard. He would be followed by the Shepard children each with a spoon or knife in their hand. Dad would rest the melon on the bench and plunge the knife into one end. If the melon was good ripe, and it usually was, one could hear it splitting open! At sight of the deep red color inside, mouths would begin to water.
Often the neighbor’s children would show up and they would join in the feast that was ahead. Having finished eating the slice we had been given, the rind would be gathered for the pigs in the pen. Of course I always placed a piece at the end of the butter bean row near the garden. The hot summer sun would mellow the rind sending out an aroma that caused the June bugs to draw near! There I would find them and tie a string around their hind leg and allow them to fly to imaginary places I had learned of in my Geography book at school. So much fun!
Some who have followed me in my previous writings might recall an article about June bugs titled, “Seeing the world from the back of a June bug!” Ah, the hours I spent as a child flying my imaginary airplane to parts of the world I have never seen! A child’s imagination can be a beautiful thing!
Watermelons would be seen lining the sidewalk in front of the small grocery stores along both sides of Pearl Street nearing the town square in Darlington. Folk passing along would stop and thump the melon, testing for ripeness.
Sunday afternoon I liked to ride with my dad through the nearby countryside and see the large fields of watermelons ripening on the vines. Memories of fields of melons, such beauty, remain fixed in my mind’s view where they have been for long, long years!
Ah, to be a boy again and to follow the wagon loaded with watermelons through the village hoping the farmer would sell a melon for a nickel! Sometimes it did happen!
A welcome letter this week comes from Rockingham, NC. The writer enjoys the News &
Press and the stories of long years past! Thanks Virginia for sharing your memories of Darlington! A memory shared lives on!
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. He is the author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.
His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C., 29673.