Living on the West End: Mill Village – Watermelons and Junebugs

By Bill Shepard

Watermelons and Junebugs were a big part of my summer enjoyments, when I was a boy! Even at this late day, so far removed from my childhood years, I often think of the pleasure they added to my childhood experiences.

Often when I see a truck loaded with melons and on its way to the marketplace, I think of the time long ago when I would see them. In the times of my childhood, there weren’t many trucks but there were wagons, drawn with mules or horses, that would be seen hauling the melons to their destination.

As a usual thing, it was the week of the Fourth of July that the first of the melons would show up on the mill village where I lived. It would be a beautiful sight! It would have been a full year, since it had happened. Unlike today, when one can see watermelons in the stores almost any time of the year.

I could easily write some names of those who brought melons to the village each year. The wagon, loaded down with the precious fruit of the vine, would enter the village early on a Saturday morning. The long drive was from as far away as Dovesville and at first sight, the driver would be met by a group of children, anxious to have their parents purchase one or more of the melons.

The driver would stop his wagon and sit while children and adults would gather around the wagon. Everyone would thump the melons to test their ripeness. The price of the melon would depend on the size. In those early times, it would be unusual to pay more than a quarter for the largest melon. Prices would often range from a dime to 25 cents! Sometimes the farmer would have a small one hidden under the seat where he would be sitting that he would sell for a nickel. I saw it happen many times.

When all had visited where the wagon was parked, the driver would move on to another location. Up and down the village streets, the farmer would drive until he or she had covered the village. Having covered the village, the driver would head to town. The store owners would purchase the melons to resale at their stores. It was not unusual to see melons on the sidewalks of the small stores all along Pearl Street in Darlington.

I was always glad when my dad would purchase one or more of the melons. I was even more pleased when it came time to cut it open and divide it into slices. Oh, the thrill! Dad would get a long butcher knife from the kitchen and head outside to a spot where there was usually a bench where he could place the melon.

When all the family had gathered, Dad would plunge the long knife blade into one end of the melon and in no time, large slices of the melon would be spread before us. Most often, there would be one or more of the neighbor’s children present. The number present to eat would determine how large each slice would be.

After everyone had eaten their melon, nothing was left but the green rinds; they would be gathered and kept to be fed to the pigs in the pen. The pigs would enjoy their portion, as much as I and the others had enjoyed ours.

A slice or two of the rind, this writer would keep to place near a garden row. There it would stay until the hot summer sun had caused it to ferment and that would attract the Junebugs that would have already found the butterbean vines and started gnawing on them.

It would not be unusual to visit the watermelon rind and find as many as a dozen or more, feasting on the rind. One could easily gather them up and place them in a container for safe-keeping. The next step was to get a long piece of Mama’s sewing machine thread and tie one end to one of the bug’s hind legs. The Junebug was now an imaginary airplane to be flown to any place that one could imagine.

This writer flew his imaginary airplanes to far away places. I would visit the places I had heard about while at school. Oh, the hours I spent as a child, visiting faraway places and I never left the back yard of our little house on the village!

It has been many years, since the time of which I write, but now that watermelon season is here again, I think the next time I get one, I will place a piece outside and watch to see if Junebugs are still in existence. Reckon?

Author: Rachel Howell

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