Watermelons and Pocket Knives

Cutting a watermelon last week brought back great summertime memories. Since we had a commercial egg farm there was a big walk in cooler at my house. It stored eggs year round but during the summer there were always some watermelons in it, getting icy cold and ready to eat.

It was always a festive time when everyone gathered, usually in the middle of the hot afternoons, under the big pecan tree beside our house. There was an old outbuilding roof there on the ground. It sat on concrete blocks about two feet off the ground and its plywood cover was perfect for cutting and eating watermelon.

I spent many happy afternoons sitting on that old roof, a crescent of watermelon in my hands and cold juice running down my chin. It was the perfect way to cool off and tasted so good!

I usually ate the red flesh from the rind by biting off chunks of it. The adults were more decorous, using a knife to cut off bites size chunks, not wanting juice running off their chins onto clothes. Since I usually had on a pair of shorts and no shoes or shirt I didn’t care.

When I was eight we were eating watermelon and the big butcher knife used to cut it was lying near me. I decided to be a big boy and used it to cut off bite size chunks. When I finished, for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to stab the rind laying on the plywood.

I will never forget seeing my hand slip off the wood handle and slide down the blade. There was no hand guard on the knife and my fist went all the way to the end of the knife. It didn’t really hurt for a second and I opened my hand to see a gash across my palm that instantly filled with blood.

Of course my mom freaked out and they rushed me to the emergency room eight miles away. I remember lying on the table with my right arm stretched out and my hand open while the doctor worked on it. My mom stood on my left holding that hand and keeping my face turned toward here. I wanted to watch what the doctor was doing but she would not let me.

Just as he finished up my mom asked why I was staring into her eyes, then she realized I was watching the reflection of the procedure in her glasses. It took eight stitches to close it up and I still have a faint white line across my palm from the scar.

I should have known better than be careless with a knife since I always had one in my pocket from the time I was about six years old. Back in the 1950s and 60s boys would rather go without pants than leave their knives at home.

We used our pocket knives for everything from playing games to cleaning game. We took them to school every day with no problems, and at recess we often carved or played games with them.

Almost all of us had “jack” knives with two folding blades that came out of the same end. One was longer than the other. That was good for what we called mumbly peg – a game where we used a piece of wood between two of us. You would open your knife with the long blade straight with the handle and the short blade at a 45 degree angle to it.

With the point of the short blade on the wood and the handle resting on your fingertip, with the handle and long blade parallel to the wood, you would flip the knife into the air. The trick with to flip it up high enough and spin it just right so the long blade point stuck into the wood.

You had to flip the knife high enough to come down with enough force to stick without flipping it off the board. Points were given based on which blade stuck. There was some skill to it and we could do it for hours.

Another game was split. Two of us would stand facing each other about two feet apart. You took turns throwing your knife, trying to stick it in the ground out from your opponent’s foot. When it stuck he had to move that foot out to it. When one of you could not get your foot out far enough, you lost. One twist in the game was if you stuck the knife between you opponents feet, usually after they had been spread apart some, they had to turn around backwards for the rest of the game.

To go full circle today, cutting the watermelon last week also reminded me of using my pocket knife to cut open citrons while dove or quail hunting. Citrons grew wild in many of the fields we hunted and after a hot afternoon of walking in the fall anything to drink sounded real good.

Citrons look like small watermelons but everyone considered the noting but hog food at best. The flesh when cut open is white and tougher than a watermelon, and dryer. And it tastes more like rind than the flesh. But on a hot afternoon with a parched throat even that bad tasting, tough flesh that was almost boiling hot from sitting in the sun, was a welcome treat!

Without my trusty pocket knife I could not quench my thirst very easily.

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