Tag Archives: Summer

Watermelon-Eating Essentials

There’s a right way to eat a watermelon. And then there’s the best way.

The right way: demote store-bought melons to chunks on fancy toothpicks or fake-looking balls. Eat in air-conditioned comfort.

The best way?

First ingredient

Order a summer day so hot that gooey blacktop shifts under your steps.

Second ingredient

Our family, uncharacteristically dressed up in this photo, are more at home lounging on this porch — one of the best places in the world for eating watermelon.

Reserve a screened-in porch with adequate waterproof seating for friends and neighbors, because the best watermelon is never eaten alone. Also, never serve it indoors. Irate mothers, who obsess about irrelevant issues like freshly mopped floors, will cut eating sessions short. Watermelon loses its flavor if eaten where consumers cannot also apply sticky juices directly to arms, legs or tummies.

Backyards, decks and parks present good watermelon-eating sites, but flies and yellow jackets — like some human relatives — come whether invited or not.

Third ingredient

Gather newspapers. My family has used these inexpensive, disposable watermelon-eating place mats for generations. If dampened sufficiently, newspapers imprint “City Sewer Plan Stinks” or similar headlines on new white shorts.

Last ingredient (but not least)

Harvest watermelons, bought not from strangers, but grown in one’s own patch — although my late father declared stolen ones the sweetest. As boys, he and his brothers patronized patches owned by Mr. Purvis Williams. Of course, when Dad amazed his Louisiana hometown by becoming a minister, he swore off such pastimes. Having returned as a 79-year-old retiree, however, he celebrated his first watermelon season back home by investigating local patches filled with fat, green-striped orbs almost bursting with juice.

The best patch’s owner: his new pastor.

Dad complimented him on his beautiful melons. The minister promptly invited Dad to help himself.

A Southerner himself, Dad understood the man was being lyin’-polite. Still posing as an ignorant Yankee, though, he took quick advantage. Dad raided the pastor’s patch. Despite tender consciences, we helped him devour the melon one sweltering July afternoon. It rated only semi-stolen, but I couldn’t imagine anything sweeter.

Still, this feast didn’t compare with those of my childhood, when Grandpa iced down a dozen from his garden in a horse trough. The entire family gathered, and every uncle, aunt and cousin received half a melon. After we finished, the adults, anticipating the imminent Watermelon Seed War, banished us kids to the yard, where we discharged our arsenals without harming any adults. Occasionally, a toddler stuck seeds up his nose. Always good for a little excitement.

Sometimes, Dad peeled thin green slices from the rind. Fashioning these into Billy Bob buckteeth, he gave us big, green-toothed grins.

Decades later, after we’d devoured the last luscious bite of his pastor’s watermelon, Dad saved the seeds to plant the next spring.

God help the rascally kid or retired minister who tried to steal his watermelons.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Is a watermelon feast one of your summer traditions?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Do I Want August to Go Away?

O Lord, part of me longs for the return of autumn’s regular schedules and button-down “Let’s do this!” Not to mention, pumpkin pie and hot cider.

But OMG, when crazy August’s heat wears on me, please remind me that ice cream and other summer delights don’t.    

  

Me on the trail in Anthony Lakes, Oregon

Summer Questions

On sultry summer days, do you sit on the porch — more likely, bask in air-conditioning — and ponder profound issues?

Me, too.

Skeptics might claim we’re procrastinating. We don’t want to mow or weed the garden for the 500th time. Or battle Japanese beetles that may as well own deeds to our rose beds.

No, I truly look for answers to my questions, including:

  • Unlike highway medians, why can’t our yards and gardens be declared prairie preservation areas?
  • Why would anyone invent platform flip-flops? A friend asks this question daily, as falling off her fashionable footwear put her in a walking boot.
  • My question: why would anyone buy them?
  • When temperatures sizzle, are you tempted to splat and zoom on a Slip ’N Slide®? (Me, neither.)
  • Do others feel embarrassed — and relieved — that their campers include air conditioners?
  • Why do summer mornings smell better every year?
  • Why do beach lovers strip down to strings — some wore pandemic masks bigger than their bathing suits — yet other bathers don more clothing than in January?
  • Why would anybody believe romaine should be grilled?
  • What summer food sometimes outranks (gasp!) ice cream? Though a lifetime addict, I believe on the hottest days, a chilled watermelon slice tastes even better. Besides, I can spit seeds at my spouse.
  • Why does my three-year-old grandson’s face, smeared with blueberries, appear adorable when my own toddlers’ gooey, blue kisses sent me running for my life — and a washcloth?
  • Tarry blacktop conjures teeth-gritting images of road construction. Endless balky traffic. Detours to Timbuktu. But does its fragrance generate positive memories for anyone else? Sweaty bike rides on country roads to a mom-and-pop store to buy icy, 10-cent bottles of cream soda? Or yakety cycling with teen friends to a bookmobile?
  • People are named June and August, but who’s named July?
  • Why do some summer outdoor wedding guests look ready for a Hollywood photo shoot, whereas other perspiring attendees — not me, you understand — look like they spent the afternoon in a dunk tank?
  • Which is best: lightning bugs, glowworms, or fireflies?
  • Why does the ice maker malfunction only when temperatures rise above 90?
  • Ditto for air conditioners. And freezers.
  • Which songs are hummed most during summer: Beach Boys’ hits? The ’50s classic, “A Summer Place”? Or “Summer Nights” from the musical, Grease?
  • While riding in the back of a pickup at 65 mph doesn’t carry its former appeal, do we children of yesteryear miss those wild, warm, nighttime breezes, the lavish, starry show above?
  • Thankfully, we don’t miss out on summer evening scents. Don’t they smell better every year?

Especially when neighbors mow grass. And nurture beautiful flowers.

All while I ponder these profound questions of summer.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What weighty quandaries fill your mind during summer?

Celebrity Goat Runner

When called upon to serve their fellow man, serious humorists never hesitate. Bob Hope performed shows for military overseas. Dave Barry rode with The World Famous Lawn Rangers precision lawnmower drill team in an inaugural parade. So, when my friend asked me to risk life and limb as the Celebrity Goat Runner at a 4-H Fair, I, too, answered the call.

I made one small stipulation. A former friend once conned me into throwing the first cow chip in a Sunday school competition. I since have sworn off all related activities, unless they involve changing my grandchildren’s diapers.

Still, I worried when my friend mentioned the word “maze.” I get lost in my driveway. So, I begged her to pair me with a goat with a good sense of direction. Or a GPS hung around its neck.

She promised I would not navigate a maze. Instead, the goat and I would run an obstacle course.

This was supposed to reassure me?

Visions of scaling rock walls with a goat tied to my back haunted me. I thought of Goat Gladiators. Would the goat scale the Ferris wheel with me tied to his back?

I told myself to get real. The last time I checked, goats weren’t allowed on Ferris wheels. Besides, most people don’t go to the fair to watch a goat obstacle course run. Sparse crowds attending the dishcloth-folding demonstrations encouraged me.

Sure enough, only a few hundred came. So what, if my name as Celebrity Pygmy Goat Runner echoed for miles over the fair’s loudspeaker?

But the course didn’t look bad. Helpful hints from my fellow goat handlers gave me hope.

“Lift the leash,” one little girl advised. Then, “If he still won’t go, lift his tail.”

Hmmm. I’d worn white Capris. …

I was introduced to Toby, a black-haired, wise-looking pygmy goat who bore a distinct resemblance to a former teacher. Thankfully, Toby, like Mr. P., was hornless. Unlike Mr. P., he did not keep the peace, but clashed with two young whippersnappers in the group. But Toby had made no attempt to knock me onto my butt. So far.

Of course, I went first.

“4-H-ers,” said the announcer, “please watch our Celebrity Runner carefully so you’ll know exactly what to do.”

Not good. Especially when Toby decided God did not make him a hurdler. I demonstrated. My athletic ability didn’t impress him. I politely requested he move. One step, please?

He not so politely declared he wouldn’t.

Finally, I lost it and said his nanny wore combat boots. He said, actually, his mother ate combat boots. Toby devoured my shoelaces to emphasize the point.

Finally, I yanked him along. He dug his hooves into the ground and skied halfway through the course like a motorboat-powered beauty.

Toby was not required to make a basket using a NERF ball and a toy shovel. Why me? Perhaps my lack of basketball prowess won me a smidgen of his sympathy. For the rest of the course, he refrained from balking, butting and making derogatory comments about my mother. Or maybe Toby decided cooperation with this loser was the quickest way to end the agony. Together, we wove in and out of the orange cones with style — finishing 23rd out of 23.

Afterward, a different friend (where do I get these friends?) told me he’d never met a celebrity goat. Did I get his autograph? What was it like?

He was getting all excited about nothing. I told him, “When you get to know them, they’re just regular people.”

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you ever met a celebrity goat, up close and personal?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Baseball DNA

O Lord, You know I spent many summer nights, sitting on hard bleachers, watching our baseball-crazy son and his team play T-ball. I slapped at mosquitoes and applauded every player (“Yay! You only missed that catch by 20 feet!”). OMG, You didn’t tell me that one day, I would watch my son coach his son too. 

Our son, circa 1990, taking a swing at his birthday T-ball while Great-Grandpa cheers him on.
Our son, who disliked his beauty parlor sponsor, nevertheless encourages his son to welcome his funeral parlor sponsor.

Our Normal Vacation

Summer trips with stops at Stuckey’s and Storybook Land. Sleeping in genuine teepees at the Woocheekoochee Warpath Motel — with a swimming pool!

A normal vacation for many kids during the 1960s.

But nobody ever accused my family of normalcy.

Any July morning, Dad might casually inform my mother he planned a family departure to visit his parents in Louisiana. At 8:00 p.m. that day.

Mom would have scorned comparison to that Wonder Woman hussy in bustier and tights, but she herself represented a true marvel. By 8:00 p.m. she had washed and packed clothes. She had canned every ripe tomato and pickle within 20 miles. Pets were exported and schedules rearranged with the decisiveness of a Fortune 500 CEO. Why Mom also cleaned our car remains a mystery. One root beer stand stop, and the station wagon again was infested with French fries, seats freshly graffitied with ketchup.

Her most amazing feat: Mom never hired a hit man to bump off Dad.

Arriving home, he flattened station wagon seats, loaded suitcases and cooler, then stacked us on top.

Dad loved all-night driving because he endured few dollar-eating, time-consuming restaurant stops. No tinkle breaks every two miles. Nothing to interrupt his love song of the open road — after children nodded off.

I often awakened with a sibling’s foot in my ear or an arm strangling me in a half nelson.

Sometimes, I awoke to discover Dad catching a few winks along an unknown highway. Waking siblings — especially the baby — was a capital crime. So, I watched in mingled hope and terror as headlights approached: hope because they lit the darkness; terror because the Hatchet Murderers of America were traveling tonight, too.

Mornings, we played tag under cedars at a Tennessee rest stop while Mom cooked bacon and eggs over a campfire. The smells alone made the all-night drive worth it.

After crossing the Mississippi River, we soon stopped outside Monroe, Louisiana. Mom extracted The Washcloth from its plastic bag to scrub us, making us smell as if we’d spent the night in a dumpster. Still, it ranked above spit and shine with The Kleenex, Mom’s substitute if she forgot The Washcloth.

Dad called Grandma from a phone booth. We all knew this dialogue by heart.

“Mama, we’re in Louisiana.”

“No, you’re not.” She’d fallen too many times for his fibs. “You ain’t left Indiana.”

“Mama! We’re just outside Monroe.”

Grandma Oglesbee, wearing the wary expression she usually did when my dad fibbed to tease her.

She didn’t buy it.

Finally, Dad admitted what Grandma had suspected all along: “The car broke down. We haven’t left home.”

“I knew it! Ya’ll think I’m soft in the head.”

His favorite part of “normal” vacation: 30 minutes later, when we pulled into Grandma’s driveway.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What vacation memory can’t you forget?

Queen Anne’s Lace: A Cure for Summer Fever

Many people suffer from cabin fever during winter, when slippery sidewalks keep them inside. Instead, I suffer from summer fever. When sizzling sidewalks threaten to fry me, I hibernate inside.

Soon, though, the six-year-old in me has to play outdoors. One evening, when sidewalks and temperatures had cooled to bearable, I considered two summer fever cures: a Moose Tracks sundae or a wildflower bouquet.

Because stern bathroom scales had issued a nasty final warning, the noncaloric remedy won. Too early for fireflies, but also too early for a mosquito assault — I hoped, since I’d neglected using stinky repellent — I headed for a nearby field.

Reaching the pasture, I forgot about insects. A blizzard had arrived in summer! Drifts of Queen Anne’s lace, like thousands of giant snowflakes, covered the meadow.

I felt cooler already.

A poem by Mary Leslie Newton lilted through my mind: “Queen Anne, Queen Anne, has washed her lace/ (She chose a summer’s day) …”

No teacher had assigned the poem. I’d memorized it as a fourth grader simply because I loved it.

A skinny little girl in baggy shorts, I explored sweltering, but magical, Indiana meadows with an enchanting lady wearing a crown. Queen Anne didn’t sweat as she gathered her exquisite laces dried in pasture grasses, laces that, according to legend, had won the tatting competition she’d initiated with her ladies-in-waiting.

As a grown-up, though, I made the mistake of researching Queen Anne’s lace online. Gasp! Some states included it on “noxious weed” lists.

Insult Queen Anne? How dare they!

Instead of the aristocratic name, they called it “wild carrot” and “bird’s nest” — even “chigger weed”!

Now, I not only sweated, I itched.

Queen Anne’s lace also resembled young hogweed, a plant that made poison ivy seem like a botanical best buddy. My favorite wildflower also resembled hemlock, the poison that killed Socrates.

Not the kind of magic I liked.

Not a cure for summer fever.

Too late, I examined my “snowflake’” stems.

Whew! No purple dots that identify both hemlock and hogweed.

The hairy stems of genuine Queen Anne’s lace didn’t reflect her elegance, but they reassured me. I could return to my fairy-tale world without a qualm — occasionally good for a grown-up. Back to the magic of Queen Anne, who never sweat or itched. Back to picking snowflakes that wouldn’t melt when I arranged them in a crystal vase, admiring the wintry effect against a blue wall.

Returning with my bouquet, I mused that Queen Anne’s cure for summer fever — imagination — had worked well.

Did the noncaloric remedy top the ice cream cure?

Um … kid or adult, I’d have to plead the Fifth.

Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your cure for summer fever?

Firefly Romance

As a child, did you run barefoot through the summer dusk, catching fireflies? Like me, you probably incarcerated them in mayonnaise jars with holey lids.

My parents tried to persuade me to release them.

This made no sense. My folks constantly looked for ways to save money. What wasn’t to love about a cool invention that lowered the electric bill? Still, when they insisted the fireflies were crying for their mommies, I freed them, trusting they were flitting home to hugs, baths and clean jammies, too.

Growing older, I wondered if something less Disney was going on. Sure enough, research revealed those Snow White scenes were actually firefly date nights. Since their adult lives last only a few weeks, love strikes these bugs like lightning; they do some serious speed dating.

Like me, Sara Lewis, a Tufts University scientist, loves to watch fireflies. Unlike me, she gets paid. For the past 25 years, Sara has noticed different species use specific flashes and delays to communicate. Opposites often attract, as seen in the following Photinus marginellus exchange:

P. marginellus Guy: Flash! (Two-second pause.) Flash! (Two seconds.) Flash! (The P. marginellus guys are the faithful, consistent types, but a little boring.)

P. marginellus Girl: Flash! (Zero delay. The P. marginellus girls are a little easy.)

A reversed pattern characterizes Photinus carolinus fireflies; with six flashes in three seconds, guys define the word “flashy.” P. carolinus women, however, wait 10 whole seconds before emitting short, coy responses that declare these dudes better show up with candy and roses.

Which some do. According to Lewis, males often bring “nuptial gifts” — food to sustain females as they lay eggs. Even in the insect kingdom, women love their Fannie May’s. Tied with red satin ribbons, thank you very much.

Because the girls are so picky, P. carolinus guys often gather in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina-Tennessee border. There, they synchronize flashes to attract their ladies’ notice, creating spectacular light shows.

Unfortunately, there is a dark side to all this love and light. The female of one species fakes the signals of others to lure unsuspecting males to her place for dinner — with him as the main course!

Eww. I’m tempted to go inside and refresh my psyche with a pure-minded sitcom.

But strains of the Mills Brothers’ old song, “The Glow-Worm,” float through my mind. Hundreds of fireflies appear, tiny lights glimmering like shiny gold confetti. My husband joins me, and we hold hands, glad that children won’t lack fireflies for their mayonnaise jars.

And that these sparks light up summer evenings for all young — and old — lovers snuggling on a porch in the summer twilight.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite firefly memory?