Yoo-hoos and Watermelons
Lying in a hammock, we swing lazily back and forth, feeling the sun beat down on the tin roof above. Covered with deep brown mud and grass stains, my cousins and I lie in a puddle of knees and elbows, too hot to touch, too young to care. The bees swarm cautiously past, inching ever closer to our bare skin, at times landing and grazing our legs with theirs. We know that as long as we don’t move, they will not sting. The smell of warm cow manure and drying tobacco wafts across the fields like the perfume of a familiar embrace. According to Granddaddy this smell, which most would find putrid at best, is “the smell of money.” We can see the cows graze nearby, and we pick out our calves, the ones we have been given to bottle feed because their mothers will not allow them to suckle. We often ponder what will become of them. My youngest cousin, Jessica, asks, “Granddaddy, what will happen to Brownie when you sell him?”
“Someone will probably eat him,” Granddaddy replies. Even at that young age, we know that Granddaddy isn’t being cruel; he is being honest.
In the months following, every time we eat a meal with meat, Jessica will tearfully ask, “Is this Brownie?”
When we become bored with our resting place, we go fishing. Because we cannot go to the pond alone, we climb into Granddaddy’s boat, still on the trailer and under the barn. Casting from our boat into a fifty gallon drum of run-off water, we use old rubber worms and branches from the pecan trees to construct our poles. Laughing we dramatically reel in “the big one” and laugh as we rock back and forth, mimicking the men we see on the fishing shows on television. Watching from a rusted red chair at the barn’s edge, Granddaddy plays along, telling us that he’s never seen a fish that big before and that we should “get that one mounted.”
After we catch our fill of fish for the day, we unload our boat and stop for water. There are two decrepit refrigerators in the shop amid welding tools and farm implements. The one farthest from the door often holds worm cans and newly cleaned fish, but the one nearest the doorway is where our magic elixir is kept. Granddaddy’s water jug. Slightly yellowed with age and wear is an old Gatorade bottle filled with tap water. Every morning it is filled and every day emptied. Water is sweetest and most satisfying when taken from the jug. We have to be careful to ration the water. It’s icy cold from the refrigerator, and though it can be refilled, it will take hours for it to reach the frosty temperature we long for in the hot Southern sun. We drink slowly, but greedily, and pass the bottle around. I relish the moment when the bottle is in my hands. Looking over the rim while I drink, Lauren and Jessica practically dance with anticipation while they wait. “You’ve had your turn; give it to me!”
Granddaddy overhears, and we hear, “Granddaughters, don’t make me cut a switch!” All bickering ceases, and reluctantly, I pass the bottle on, leaving just enough water in it to last for my two younger cousins. When we’ve each had a swig, we refill the bottle and return it to the appropriate refrigerator.
As we walk out of the barn, Lauren says, “I’m kind of hungry. I wonder what kind of snacks the Schwan’s man left?”
“Granny said he didn’t come today,” I reply. “We’re all out of ice cream.” We both know that we are not interested in the Schwan’s man; we are hoping that Granddaddy will overhear our conversation and take us to the store.
As we begin counting for a game of hide and seek among the hay bales, we hear it: “Granddaughters, get in my truck!” We climb into the truck bed, anxious for the feel of the wind blowing in our hair, drying the sweat from our sticky bodies. Once inside, we flop down, arms and legs raised like inverted spiders so that only our bottoms are touching the scalding metal. As we ride down dirt roads, we plan what we want.
When we arrive at Mr. June’s store, we scurry bare feet across sun-scorched sand to get inside. The inside of the store is filled with cool air; upon entering, we pause to let our burnt feet cool on the slick, cold concrete floor. Mr. June’s store has everything an eight-year old could want: coolers with tops that slide back filled with ice cream and cold drinks, racks of candy and chips, Coca-Cola in real glass bottles, and a deli counter where Mr. June’s son, Mr. Jimmy, will cut you a piece of meat from a sugary baked ham as big as you want to go on your sandwich. I love to reach into the deep coolers and slowly pull out my drink, taking my time to enjoy the frigid air rolling off of the ice inside. Mr. June playfully yells, “Hey girls, you’re lettin’ my bought air out!” And laughing, we close the coolers. I am a chocolate Yoo-hoo with a pecan twirl; Lauren is a strawberry Yoo-hoo with a pecan twirl, and Jessica is a chocolate Yoo-hoo with a bag of candy.
In the late summer months, we have watermelon instead of going to Mr. June’s. Granddaddy picks one the night before and puts it in the refrigerator outside next to his bottle of water. In the afternoon, he covers the tailgate of his truck with newspaper, and Granny changes us from our playclothes into Granddaddy’s old t-shirts. We hang off of the tailgate of the truck in his old t-shirts, feet dangling, watching him cut into a cold, crisp watermelon. His knife goes smoothly into the green flesh, and when he cuts just far enough around, we hear the anticipated “POP” of the watermelon splitting open. The sweet red fruit peppered with black seeds waters in the sun, and our mouths do the same. The three of us are given forks, and we tear into the watermelon, eating until our stomachs are round like young puppies given too much milk. Granddaddy eats his watermelon with his knife, but we are not allowed to use the knife or touch it. Jessica begins crying because she has swallowed another seed. Granddaddy laughs and tells her, “Well, I won’t have to plant them next year; they’ll be growing out your ears!” Some days this makes Jessica laugh, and others it makes her cry harder. On the days it makes her cry, Granny reassures her while Lauren and I laugh. We are not a baby like Jessica, and we know watermelons cannot grow in our tummies, but just in case, we very carefully remove our seeds each time we take a bite.
In the late afternoon our parents return from work, and we go home covered with sticky watermelon juice and remnants of the day’s playtime. It’s back to the reality of weekend visitations and step-siblings, of affairs and lies, and of little girls who get caught in the middle when daddies leave. But while we are at Granny and Granddaddy’s, we are safe, and we are happy, and we have all the love and family we need. Though my grandparents are still alive, much of the farm is not, and I miss the days when a hammock and a chocolate Yoo-hoo could solve all the troubles life had to give.