When I was a youth of 17 life had few complications. Ronnie Stanley, Earl Boyanton, and I (Mickey
Walker) hunted in the woods a lot when we were young and in high school. We were all the same age and attended Thomas
Jefferson HS in Port Arthur, Texas where the 3 of us played varsity football
and went all the way to the Texas AAAA State Championship. We lost the last game and the state
championship to the Highland Park Scotties.
But the resiliency of youth carried us into the next day and up to the
woods to go a-hunting.
After a wondrous, Cinderella year of new plateaus in our lives of football and school as teenagers, we needed a respite and an adventure. So we hunted and fished a lot as boys sometimes do when they are seeking new experiences, new discoveries.
One evening in the winter of 1957 and just after dark, Ronnie, Earl, and I had come out of the woods near Corrigan, Texas and onto the dirt road to my great Great Uncle Cenie’s place a mile away. My Uncle Cenie and Aunt Myra lived on 150 acres of off the road pine forest in Deep East Texas. We had about a mile to go to reach the house and some food, and boy were we hungry. We talked about how starved and thirsty we were.
Then suddenly, we became aware of a vehicle behind us and coming up out of the mist to overhaul us. We stopped dead on the road. It was a horse-drawn wagon pulled by a pony. In the board seat with scissor springs sat an old man with a jolly laugh and loaded down with watermelons. We stopped and said “Heidi” to him. Ronnie asked him if his watermelons were for sale, and the man said, “Yes. One dollar.” So we bought one to carry back to Aunt Myra and Uncle Cenie’s farm house where we were staying. Aunt Myra would have some smothered steak, fried cabbage, hard-fried potatoes with onions and a few black tips and maybe some other little treat like Purple Hull Peas for some hungry hunters, home from the hill. The watermelon would make a good dessert. Somebody gave the man a dollar, he gave me a medium-sized melon, and he went on his way toward Camden down the little sand road and into the thick mist.
I decided to tote the melon so I gave my Remington pump shotgun to Earl and hoisted the melon up high onto my shoulder. My Uncle Cenie’s Mackinaw jacket I wore was saturated with mist, so the melon promptly slipped off my shoulder and hit the hard sand road with a hard thud! It broke open into two big pieces. Our hearts all stopped for a minute to hear the sadness of abrupt silence. Damn! What to do? I probably said something profane, like shit or damn, and the other two looked mournfully at where the little melon wagon had disappeared in the mist. No second chance. We either had to carry the pieces home or eat it right then and there. Earl smiled a big mockish grin with teeth and gums showing. I knew he was about to give me a raft of crap about my blowing dessert so I said, hell, we’ll just eat it right here. Ronnie broke out into hard belly laughs. So we down on the sand road and began breaking the pieces off with our fingers and stuffing the cool melon heart, then the parts with seeds into our mouths and spitting seeds out as we laughed and talked. It was a good melon. We looked knowingly at each other, knowing we were crazy out sitting on the sand road all alone and eating watermelon and laughing in the dark. We laughed between bites. But it was a good melon and would do even under all the weary considerations. It was okay. Most memorable was Ronnie’s laughter. It was uncontrollable and would start and stop as he pondered the irony of our eating a melon on the road in the mist at in Corrigan night. I had fumbled the watermelon alright, but it was all okay. Perhaps little banal ironies did not catch or hook so hard when you were young.
“Dang it, Walker, this is crazy.” Stanley would say, starting up with the spontaneous laughter again and looking at my face to see what I would allow. Earl laughed hard, too, and enjoyed good irony. Both of them looked at me like I was crazy and one of them would laugh and then the other one as we picked out the flesh and ate it like 3 old crows on the roadside.
Somehow I felt exonerated by the mist that had caused the mishap. Mother Nature had given us lemons and we made lemonade, I thought, but still it was funny, like in a Laurel and Hardy short where it was man alone with his wits, challenged by the universe. Besides, the mist was to blame. Stanley could not stop laughing as he told the story back at the house to Aunt Myra on station at her gas stovetop. She acted tough and feigned disinterest in mishaps like the saga of the melon story, always with a Phillip Morris cigarette hanging from her mouth almost touching her chin as she put the food on the table for us, including Uncle Cenie’s customary dish of sliced raw onion. I saw her secret smile when she went back to stove duties. She relished the little watermelon tale for sure and seemed to thrive on the mirth of teenager’s who came to see her and Uncle Cenie in the country.
We had tossed the rinds in the ditch on the roadside and laughed all the way back to the house. Ronnie would burst into laughter unexpectedly as we sat around the pot-bellied stove and walking to the porch ever now and then to spit out some Rooster Snuff or Tinsley’s White Tag plug tobacco (Ronnie’s favorite). As young soon-to-be-men we had tried chewing tobacco and snuff as a way to emulate the adults in our lives back then.
Later, Ronnie and Earl even laughed at me when I saw them back in the halls of Thomas Jefferson High School in Port Arthur, and I knew why. I could smile, too, and remember how my inattention to detail had caused the unraveling of a tale to be told for years to come, and you smiled each time you remembered the simple little piece of life as youths. I never saw the melon incident as a defeat, but a simple alteration in the flow of things. Different is good too. Abrupt forks in the road can be fun, too, especially when you are too young yet to be set in your ways. Eating a melon on the roadside in the dark mist had a special essence of its own: You could talk about it, share it, and laugh again, remembering it all some 54 years later. And that could very well be the epitome of “food for thought.”
Ronnie was selected as a Texas High School All-State quarterback that year, and I, an All-State guard. He went on to Baylor to play on a football scholarship and I, to Texas A&M and then to Kansas University, both colleges on a football scholarship. Stanley went on to become a country doctor, and I went into the Navy and to duty in Viet Nam and other faraway places. Earl Boyanton became and Air Force colonel thanks to the OTS post-college program offered by the Air Force back then. He later worked for Rumsfeld in the Bush Administration as Assistant Deputy for Transportation.
I want to make a statement.
From those early days to the present we 3 had become aware of some of our political differences, and it felt a bit strange that the innocence of our youth, our friendship, had become blurred somehow with political considerations. It seemed foreign, something, perhaps, that we would never fully understand. The basis of our existence and life had changed to “something new, something strange” (as told in the great poem by Longfellow “Keramos”). So we, as did many of us who made the transition from youth to adulthood, became aware that life was serious. That political parties would lie to get their candidates elected. And that the candidates would lie to gain power and the ability to convince Americans that borrowing and spending was okay if it was done with God’s blessing to defeat Evil. And that giving up our basic freedoms under the Constitution, e.g., habeas corpus, our right to privacy from government snooping, and the right to a fair trial of our peers was okay to give up, too if it were deemed to be in the interest of National Security, the latter of which is pure bullshit. It is a ploy to gain more power at the expense of the people.
No, life could never be as simple as laughing and eating a busted watermelon in the mist of night sitting on a sand road in the country ever again. But no matter. As the years go by and the mind and spirit return to the best things in life where the memory of youth still resides one can truly know that he has seen the best of times. And can still enjoy them on the wings of memory.