Tis the season… no, not Christmas season, but the season I look forward to each and every year. That’s right, it’s watermelon season.
Been following the trail up through Bald Knob and Batesville these past several years to head to Cave City, home of the world’s sweetest watermelons. We leave home first thing in the morning and make the two hour drive up there, me and Hunter, just to spend the day in the middle of the city park, relaxing to gospel and folk music and enjoying the 4pm free watermelon feast. It’s a nice, small festival, one I’ve fallen in love with, and we will eventually be back.
But my job is to cover all of Arkansas, and I’ve neglected the other famed watermelon festival, the big boy of the South (Arkansas, that is). I haven’t been to the Hope Watermelon Festival in years.
Hope melons are different from Cave City melons. They tend to be more watery and less sweet, but what they lack in intensity they make up for in sheer size. I often see trailer loads of Hope melons alongside busy thoroughfares, the trailers usually packed with longer, pale green melons with dark stripes. Some folks swear by a Hope melon, and I should too, considering where I come from and what I do.
Thing is, I could purchase either sort of melon any day of the week from a variety of places. It might require a small drive but certainly wouldn’t require me to get out my tennis shoes and sunscreen. So why do I go?
There’s something about an Arkansas festival. It’s not the concessionary vendors or the promotions, though sometimes either or both could be fun. It’s something about hearing people speak in the native tongue, how they share a bit of their lives at these things. I go to experience these things. I take Hunter because she needs her own exposure.
Growing up in the city is an experience all its own. I had my opportunity; I’m a full on strong hearted Little Rock woman and will always feel this is my hometown. But I also recall the time spent around my roots in southwest Arkansas and on trips into the Ozarks. I learned more about our state from the back of a car and every roadside stop as a kid than I did throughout my 20s. Some things stick with you.
I want Hunter to know what it’s like to swap recipes and stories with aging women at a bake sale. To run with other kids and play carnival games and such. I want to teach her how to do an appropriate tick check, how to properly pet a kid goat, all those sorts of things. I want her to develop a taste for the foods that are native to us, blackberries and peaches and Mayhaws and muscadines. And of course, watermelon.
So we’re going. I’ve already started planning what I’m going to pack for us to take -- sunscreen, bug spray, Thermos of water, cooler with sandwiches, all that. We’ll watch the lawnmower races and the watermelon eating contest, the arm wrestling competition and the seed spitting contest. She may be too young to teach how to properly spit seeds, but I will buy a slice of cold watermelon and share it with her. And somewhere I’m going to find a big melon and take her photo with it.
Hunter’s just 20 months old. She may not remember every detail of what we do, but I’m hoping she’ll be able to look back when she’s my age and remember that her mother was never afraid to drive her a couple hours out from home just to eat a piece of watermelon.