remember him laughing, his body leaning over the dining room table and his cheeks full of pulpy flesh. His joy was simple: my father loved watermelon.
At the large table where I grew up, late summer dinners ended with an oblong melon cut in quarters then divvied among us. Each red slice was large enough to fill a dinner plate and we sat with our forks ready.
My father liked to salt his melon and I followed suit, then meticulously dug each line of black seeds out one by one.
My youngest brother spit the black eyelets across the table when my father wasn’t looking and I shot back a glance. We all lamented that watermelon was the best part of summer if it weren’t for the darned seeds.
When only a rind was left, a pile of shiny black seeds was left behind in a watery soup.
“One day,” my father would say, “they’ll make a watermelon without the seeds. That day is coming!”
We’d smile, our mouths dripping with juice and our bellies full of water.
At the market across the street where I now live, the local farmers’ produce is stacked on the sidewalk with apples, cantaloupe and corn on the cob. The country harvest has made it to my Brooklyn block.
But I am eyeing only one item, the delight of late summer: pre-sliced, chilled-on-ice watermelon. Though it makes for a heavy load for my fourth-floor walk-up apartment, it’s worth it.
On my kitchen counter, I pull back the saran wrap and place it on my cutting board. I am so pleased that it is all mine and I won’t have to share. I can eat it with salt and seeds and all. It is then that I realize it has happened; my father’s prediction has come true. Maybe it’d been this way for a while and I hadn’t noticed. But seeds are gone. All gone. Not a black seed existed in the entire quarter melon I brought home.
A wave of visual memories flashed in my mind and I stopped. I saw the table of my youth, us kids jockeying for the slice with the least seeds, my digging fork and my brother’s aim. The seeds that ended up on the floor and stuck to my bare feet. They provided anticipation, a bit of work to get to the prize, making each bite worth the effort.
There was no best slice now; it was all ready to eat without work or complaint. I took my largest knife from the drawer and prepared to slice. The blade slid through the flesh, hesitated at the rind, then with an extra push, it hit the wood of the cutting board with a “donk.”
When I saw the red triangle shape ready to eat, the loss of seeds left me. I no longer cared what hybridization had done. Thirsty anticipation overtook my moral nostalgia and I gave into the impulse.
I grabbed the salt and sprinkled it lightly. Then, leaning over the table as my father did so long ago, I bit in with full joy and pleasure. Pulpy melon filled my cheeks and I smiled. No seeds fell, only juice dripped from the corners of my mouth and coolness filled my body.
My father was gone and so were the seeds, but sweet nostalgia arrived on my Brooklyn block in that bite. In this way I saluted summer’s end.