Cleaning up around the house was not how I normally spent my Sunday mornings, but I’d been hard at it since seven thirty to make the back garden and our new pool look good. And it did. Look good, I mean.
“Lookin’ good, Will,” said Dad admiring the patio and pool area. “Not that you’re trying to impress anyone, of course!”
“Well, maybe, just a bit, but I like Lara a lot, she’s special.” Dad smiled and nodded as though he wrote the book about young love.
My Dad is in construction. He built our house and then put a swimming pool in the back garden – it was great, but took a lot of work to keep it really clean. And today it had to be really clean and sparkling. It was the first time I invited Lara, my girlfriend, to Sunday lunch at our house and I was more nervous than I’d ever been about anything, and that includes taking the driving test.
I brushed and scrubbed at my shoes until they looked new. I must have tried on every pair of pants and every shirt I owned, which wasn’t many, and still couldn’t decide.
“Mom, which shirt should I wear today?” I asked as I carried an armful of shirts into the kitchen.
“Be careful, you’ll get them creased. Wear the blue one, it matches your eyes. Oh Will, you look more like your Dad every day!”
“Don’t I wish, everyone says Dad is such a handsome dude!”
“Yes, as I said, you look more like him every day.”
“Aw, Mom, now you’re embarrassing me, and please don’t do that, you know it makes me go all red in the face.” I was notorious for the fiery red color that would creep up from my chest to my cheeks when I felt self-conscious. And I just read that teenagers are painfully self-conscious and know that “painfully” is only too true. When I blush I want to run and stick my head in a bucket of cold water. That article promised to tell “10 Ways to Banish Blushing,” but none of them were worth the paper they were printed on. How can you “ignore the people staring at you,” or “think about the paper you have to write for homework” when everyone in the room is staring at your flaming cheeks!
Mom was making her chicken pot pie for dinner and strawberry cake for dessert, so I knew the dinner would be a hit. Mom was always being asked to bring her chicken pie to potlucks, and her strawberry cake was on the front cover of the latest cookbook put out by her church women’s group. Of course we would finish up with some ice-cold watermelon, because we live in Melon, Arkansas, watermelon capital of the world. I was a bit worried that my fourteen year old brother would find a way to embarrass me, but hoped he might tone it down in front of Lara and both Mom and Dad.
We all sat down to breakfast together – Mom and Dad are really keen on us eating meals together, all sitting at the table, with no phones allowed. Then we all piled into Dad’s Range Rover and went to church. Corny, isn’t it? Some of my friends laugh at me for doing what my parents want, but what they want seems like the right thing to do, so why not? Sometimes I rebel, but, hey, I’m a teenager, right? Anyway, Lara goes to the same church with her family and I can’t wait to see her. Then we get to bring her home with us.
The church service was coming to a close, we all sang the last hymn, then the minister said “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” and we responded, “Thanks be to God,” and we filed out. I walked over to say hello to Lara’s parents to thank them for letting her come to lunch with us. Then I did what I’d been rehearsing all day – walked over to Lara, held out my arm and said “may I escort you to the car?” Lara looked startled, but then she beamed me one of her smiles, put her arm through mine, and we sashayed our way to the car.
Lara and I had worked on several school projects together over the past few years, and found we worked really well together. A few years ago I thought she was a fun person, and great to work with, but sort of funny looking. She has light blondish red hair, I think it’s what they call “strawberry blonde,” and very, very pale skin, with some freckles. One day in class she wasn’t feeling well and had fainted, falling out of her seat. The teacher ran to help her and took her to the school nurse. The color had drained out of her face when she fainted and her face was so white you could see all the freckles on the surface of her skin clearly – it looked spooky to me. Some of the kids started calling her “the ghost,” which was actually a good description, but a bit mean, and I could see how it upset her. Lara’s Mom had the same coloring. When they were healthy it was actually beautiful, but not when they were sick!
When we arrived at our house, we all went out to the pool and Lara, who had brought her swimsuit, said she couldn’t wait to get in. Mom said we should swim now, as lunch would be about another hour, and after eating we wouldn’t be able to swim for a while. So my Dad, Lara, my brother Ronny and I quickly changed and jumped in, enjoying the water’s refreshing coolness on the hot summer day. We swam and threw a beach ball back and forth, then floated on air beds until Mom called us to come and eat. We changed back into our Sunday best and enjoyed Mom’s delicious meal.
During lunch we talked about what Lara and I wanted to do after we graduated. Lara told us that she was interested in becoming a vet. Her father is a farmer, so she is used to dealing with animals on the farm, and loves it. Her mother is a middle school teacher, and she’s from Texas.
“My grandparents in Texas want me to go to college there so I can live with them, but I’d rather stay here and go to our local college,” she smiled shyly at me when she said this.
“I’m going to say local too, we have some good science and engineering programs.” I’m not sure exactly what I want to do with my life yet, but it will be in one of those fields, and I think the answer will come to me.
When we’d all finished, Lara suddenly jumped up and said,
“Mrs. Taylor, thank you for such a lovely lunch. Now it’s your turn to sit back and enjoy your Sunday afternoon. Will, Ronny, and I will clear the table, do the dishes, and clean up the kitchen, won’t we boys?” She beamed her 2000 watt smile at both of us and we just went along with what she said. My Mom looked more than surprised, but Dad took her by the hand and led her into the front room, where he turned on the television and put on Mom’s favorite Midsommer Murders.
We showed Lara where everything was and we all got to work and cleaned up in no time.
“Can I go now please,” asked Ronny, with a pitiful whine in his voice?
“Yes, of course,” said Lara, “thanks for your help in here and for making my day here such fun.” Ronny blushed and his face just beamed, and he walked out of there like a little prince.
“I wish I could get my little brother to do what I want like that,” I complained to Lara.
“He won’t do it for you probably. My little sister would do cartwheels down Main Street for you, but she either ignores me or is super rude.”
“Hey, maybe we should swap brothers and sisters,” I said, and we both cracked up. I was beginning to relax and enjoy myself – nothing had gone wrong! I don’t know what I’d expected, but I was really worried that something would spoil Lara’s first visit.
“What shall we do now,” I asked, “do you want to watch TV with my parents, or come up to my room to play on my drum set?”
“Will, you know how interested I am in genealogy? There are a bunch of old looking black and white photos in your dining room that I’d like to look at. I couldn’t see them very well from the table, but they looked like pictures from around here a long time ago.”
“Yes, they are, pictures of my parents, and grandparents, and great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents, all doing what they used to do back then.”
“And what was that?”
“They grew watermelons. And strawberries and apples and squash and pumpkins. All sorts of fruit and vegetables. My Grandad still lives at the farm, although he doesn’t grow as much as he used to. My great-great grandad had the first farm stand along the road to the river, and people would drive for miles to buy what he grew. Great-grandad was one of the farmers who bred the watermelons we buy today – they were bigger, sweeter, and juicier than the old ones. The soil around here is very rich and we get a lot of sunshine and rain, so it’s good for growing stuff.”
“And that’s how our town got its name, isn’t it?” asked Lara, laughing.
“Yeh, that’s right.”
We live in the small town of Melon, in Arkansas. You might laugh at the name of our town, but if you take a look at maps of our state, you will see many odd, amusing, or downright weird town names. One of the most well-known is Evening Shade, a nice old town in the Ozarks, which was the location of a TV show from the 1970’s starring Burt Reynolds. Then there’s the town of Strawberry, named after the Strawberry River, famous for the wild strawberries growing along its banks. My favorite is the town of Oil Trough, on the White River, named for the trough full of bear grease bought from hunters and sold to settlers for lamps, cooking, and all forms of lubrication during the settlement of the area.
Next, Lara spotted an engraved metal shield beside an old photo of a man holding it up to the camera –
“That was my great-grandfather Zeke, he won it in 1924.”
“Presented to Zechariah Taylor, 1924 Champion Watermelon Seed Spitter, 52 Feet, 8 Inches. Lawrence County Fair,” Lara read aloud, which was difficult because she was laughing fit to bust. She was laughing so much she was almost choking and tears ran down her cheeks.
But not me. I wasn’t laughing. I was mortified. And the dreaded heat, remorseless and relentless, crept up past my collar bone, up my neck until I was the champion redneck of the region, over my jaw and into my cheeks. I couldn’t speak. I just looked at Lara, having hysterics, and endured the worst feeling I’d ever had. Two fat tears sat on my eyelashes, then rolled down both flaming cheeks.
Lara was laughing at me. Lara thought I was a ridiculous figure of fun. Why did I invite her for Sunday lunch? Why did I risk this, the most embarrassing moment of my life, and leave myself open to being hurt. I wished with all my heart that I could die right then and there. Devastated, I turned away to walk out of the room, but it wasn’t over! Lara took hold of my arm, then my hand, and squeezed. Then she put her hands up, one on each of my cheeks, stood on her tiptoes and kissed me. On the lips. I thought I was going to pass out. What was happening?
“Will, I want you to come back to my house with me, there’s something you just have to see, and you’re not gonna believe your eyes!”
She pulled me along behind her into the front room and knocked on the open door to get my parents’ attention.
“Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, can Will give me a ride back home and stay a while, there’s a project I’d like him to take a look at for me? Thank you so much for a lovely day, I’ve really enjoyed myself.”
“Yes, of course, dear, and we thank you for spending time with us. Say hello to your Mom and Dad for us, will you?”
Lara nodded, and we left in Mom’s little Ford. Lara kept giving me huge smiles and laughing to herself as we drove, but all she would say to me was “You’re not going to believe this.” I should have been nervous and worried, but all I could think about was Lara’s kiss. After that I was in a complete daze so nothing could have knocked me off my dream cloud.
Mrs. Wheeler said “hello Will” to me as we came in but I think I just grunted! Lara led me into their front room where a lot of photos were arranged on a round table. They looked like the old photos of my family, except some of them were of horses, cows, and cowboys. Lara said these were of her mother’s Texas family, and held one in front of me which showed a man in a ten gallon hat holding up a little silver cup. His smile was so big his teeth gleamed out of that old black and white photo. Then Lara held out that same silver cup. I took it and read aloud, “Presented to Lee Wheeler of Muling, Texas, World Championship Seed Spitting Contest, Watermelon Seed Spit 68 ft 9 in, June 30, 1989.”
“That’s my grandfather on Mom’s side, and he made the Guinness Book of Records that day.”
And with those words we both lost it, laughing so hard it hurt, rolling on the floor with laughter. Amid our laughter and tears we hugged each other and then time stood still as I bent to kiss her properly. It was probably a good thing that her Mom called out from the kitchen asking if we wanted some lemonade.