The Planted Row: Watermelons and fireworks make the day

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Farm Forum

Independence Day is one time of year when I really miss my home in Mississippi. In my family’s celebration, there are plenty of delicious grilled and fried foods, and the desserts are top-notch, too. A few members specialize in homemade ice cream, and they churn out some great stuff. But the star of the show is the watermelon.

We always try to plant our watermelons early enough so they’re ready by the Fourth. Sometimes weather spoils those plans, but most years we have a watermelon fresh from the patch, and it is a glorious thing. Grown in fertile soil and tempered with constant heat and high humidity, the fresh Mississippi watermelon is nothing like the oblong, seedless green thing that was picked too early and stored too long that most people can buy at a grocery store.

The first thing you notice about a fresh watermelon is the smell. When you cut into it, you will notice a powerful, sweet aroma. When I first started working for the Farm Forum, my father brought one of his 40-pound melons up here on a visit, and I took it to the newsroom to share with my co-workers. When I cut it, someone in the next room said, “Oh my God, what is that wonderful smell?” I told this person, “It’s a watermelon.” He looked confused and asked, “Watermelon has a smell?”

Yes, it has a smell, but it is just a foreshadowing of the sweet taste. It didn’t take long for that huge melon to disappear, and I often get asked when my dad is bringing another one.

I remember spending Independence Day sitting on a back porch with my siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, all of us picking or spitting seeds and swapping stories. My grandfather would tease the younger kids and tell them they would start growing watermelon vines out of their ears if they swallowed any seeds. Everyone was laughing. By the time we were done, the kids’ shirts would be soaked with juice, and there would be a line outside the bathroom.

I always ate too much and would have to take a nap, but that was fine. The nap left me with plenty of energy for the day’s finale: fireworks.

Our parents would light a few larger displays while my cousins and I would practice aiming bottle rockets by launching them from our hands and trying to hit targets. It wasn’t long before we tried to hit each other. That was about as dangerous as my cousins would get, but my friends who lived down the road are another story.

My friends and I had guerilla fireworks wars in the dark on July 4. We stalked each other with firecrackers, bottle rockets, smoke bombs, Roman candles, and M-80’s. We climbed trees, we hid in ambush, we set traps, we risked life and limb. I had a sucker dart crossbow that just happened to also fire M-80’s (which were the same diameter as the darts). It became my grenade launcher, and it let me rule the battlefield until my friends got brave enough to fire M-80’s with slingshots.

It was incredibly dangerous, and there was no objective other than to scare each other to death. The game would only stop if we ran out of ammo or if we set something or someone on fire. I always came home with bruises, minor burns and a big smile on my face.

It was the most fun I’ve ever had, and if my friends called me up right now and invited me to another war, I’d be there in a heartbeat. But that will never happen, for us or our kids. Now, they’d throw us in jail for letting our children have that much freedom on Independence Day.

In remembrance of those wonderful holidays gone by, I wish you a sweet, happy and safe (but not too safe) Fourth of July.