I see him clearly when I close my eyes and occasionally, if I am lucky, in my dreams. An old blue Ford, navy blue pants, a red striped shirt with stains fading down the front, and those same ole tennis shoes he liked to call “Willy Scratch-Its.” My papa was the hardest working and most simple man I’ve ever met. Even the late stages of Alzheimers didn’t stop him from going to his farm supply store to work. I’ll never forget the day we poured imaginary seeds and built invisible fences. His brain wanted him to stop while his body only knew one path: keep going, work harder, don’t be lazy. We were all able to let him continue for a while, but eventually even his body started to forsake him and down he went into the recliner and then the bed to live out the rest of his days — everyone taking turns sitting by his side and squeezing his hand. Trying to imagine life without our papa. Everyone gathered around as he took his last breaths and floated into eternal rest on a scorching July day. I went home, closed my eyes, and willed myself to remember the man in the navy blue pants with the crooked smile rather than the man who slipped from our hands on that day.
Memory is a tricky beast. The threads of my life story come untied daily as new memories are formed and life races in a forward trajectory. If I’m not careful, the trajectory will wipe my memory bank clean. Perspectives will change as I fly higher and higher away from my early years. I will leave the stories somewhere down below, never purposefully, but as a result of the candles on my cake. And, believe me, I never want to leave the stories without letting them unwind from this ball of yarn I hold in my hand. I don’t want to wait until I’m 50 years old to look back upon my life. I want to remember the stories now.
I eat a lot of watermelon. You probably wouldn’t believe the amount I eat on a weekly basis. I love the taste, but I also love the nostalgia. During the summer months, my papa always had a watermelon waiting at his house. Farmers would drop them by the farm supply store throughout the summer and papa would gladly buy them. They weren’t these weak seedless melons you see in the grocery store these days. These melons were huge, impossible for a little girl to move or even roll sometimes. He would take out his old pocket knife, give it a few wipes on those navy blue pants, and cut the melon open. If it started to crack, I knew I was in for a real treat. He would then take that same old knife and cut the heart of the melon right out. The best. The sweetest. The most desirable part of the melon. We all wanted the melon heart, but papa always knew who loved melons the most. The #1 melon lover gathered around would get the first heart and the #2 melon lover would get the second heart. The melon was never cut into slices, instead we all gathered around with a spoon in hand…scooping out pink chunks like eating a bowl of cereal. These were some of the happiest moments of my childhood. The people I love gathered around, the joy on my papa’s face as he cut the melon and passed out the hearts, and the best relief for hot summer days in South Georgia. Of course, I was usually melon lover #1 and, to this day, sit and eat entire melons all by myself.
My stories are pieces of growing up in the south, a big family, my papa, and faith found. Threads of tradition, smiles around something as simple as watermelon, and the love of a tribe. Sounds lovely, right? Not so fast. There is another thread unwinding, the darker thread of my early years and the issues currently plaguing the place where I grew up. This thread has equally made me who I am today: my dad’s addiction, a family torn apart, and my desire to give myself a different set of life experiences. The juxtaposition and dichotomy of my early years still leaves me spinning in circles at times. But, underneath it all is still the little girl waiting patiently for the watermelon heart, grasping for the memories not to slip away, chasing balls of yarn because someone somewhere needs these stories. So, just like papa, I find joy and healing in cracking open the melon, cutting out the heart, and passing it along to you.