Uncle Cran's "Great Watermelon Heist"
In the typical hillbilly scene above (and by "typical," I mean that we see a watermelon), note the typical Ozark watermelon. You may protest that this scene is not of the Ozarks but of Russia. True, but that is not my fault, for I am not the long-dead Kustodiev and did not paint this scene. You may further protest that watermelons are found throughout the world and are therefore not 'typical' of the Ozarks. Pardon me, but I believe that no watermelons are grown in Antarctica. (Privately, I am told that penguins consider it beneath their tuxedo-clad dignity.) I acknowledge that one sometimes finds watermelons outside the Ozarks, but in my opinion, watermelons are indigenous to the Ozarks and were introduced elsewhere in the world after having been stolen from there.
Speaking of stealing, my Uncle Cran used to steal watermelons. I don't think that he made his living that way, at least not when he was a kid, but judge for yourselves in his true confession -- which follows after a bit of whining over my recent post about the dime that he once stole and never returned:
Some time ago I confessed to a youthful crime of stealing a dime from brother Jarrell, who had come home on leave from the army. I was eleven years old at the time, and bought a bottle of pop and an ice cream cone, but had pangs of conscience for years. I recounted my feelings of guilt, and subsequent attempt to clear my conscience in 2005, by confessing to my brother and handing him a dime.Note all the whining that I warned about. And don't miss the Old Testament reference, more prooftext for Uncle Cran's tendency toward a works-of-righteousness view on earning forgiveness. He might object that forgiveness in the Year of Jubilee is unearned, but my point is that he is still appealing to the laws of the old covenant for his justification. Let us be alert to Uncle Cran's other subterfuges for lessening the seriousness of his crimes:
He carefully examined the dime, then returned it to me, saying, "Cran, that's not the same dime."
His wife Corene suggested the Bible required adding the fifth part also. I at first thought she wanted compounded interest for nearly sixty years, but upon reflection, realized she only wanted me to put in another two cents (at least I hope so).
But then, if we followed the Old Testament, the Year of Jubilee every fifty years required that all debts be forgiven, so I am now clear of the crime, and forgiven.
However, nephew Jeffery, PhD, put this on his blog, Gypsy Scholar, and heaped scorn, ridicule, and a burden of guilt upon his poor uncle, which was more than I could bear. Let my response here be the answer to my unforgiving nephew.
This [whining of mine] has cause me to recall another episode in my blighted past:Already, Uncle Cran lies, asserting in his baldfaced manner that everyone raised a watermelon patch even though he knows that the patch remained at ground level. He should at least grow a mustache to avoid telling such baldfaced canards!
For many generations, the youth of my and previous generations observed a time-honored tradition called "Watermelon Stealing." In those days, most everyone raised a watermelon patch.
I always wondered why those who did so always raised more than they could eat. Upon reflection, I now realize that those faithful church-attending men remembered that in their youth they did their share of "hooking" a few watermelons, as Mark Twain would say. They knew the next generation would continue the practice.At this juncture, I must interrupt with an enunciation lesson provided by Uncle Cran, who claims what the "Scotch-Irish pronunciation of Leona should be for 'non-hillbilly' readers: . . . Leona = Le Oh Nee." Uncle Cran then adds the pronunciation for some other proper names that have nothing to do with this story:
Our neighbor, Wiley Hanes, always grew a huge melon patch along Big Creek. It was far more than he, his wife Leona (pronounced Lee-ony by hillbilly standards), and bachelor brother Hiram could possibly eat.
Nora = Nor EeeThank you, Uncle Cran. We all feel edified. Now, get on with your story about how your neighbor Wiley Hanes tried to reform you:
Cuba = Cube Er
And possibly worst of all:
Ophelia = Oh Feely Yer (what a distortion of a beautiful name -- it almost sounds vulgar).
And if the "a" is inside instead of an ending:
Japan = Jay Pan
He knew, of course, that us nine Hodges boys would find it [the watermelon patch], and take advantage.Right. We'll see how long Uncle Cran shoulders the entire blame:
There was a tale current in those days that one farmer decided he would stop this crime in his melon patch, so he put up a large sign, ONE OF THESE MELONS HAS BEEN POISONED! Next day he looked, and someone had added below his writing, NOW THERE ARE TWO!
Now where was I?
Oh yes, THE GREAT WATERMELON HEIST
One hot August day, I and the two Montgomery boys, and their cousin, the Mason boy decided to find a watermelon patch and have a feast. I will conceal their first names to protect the guilty.
We got on our bicycles, rode the three miles down the dusty lane until we got near the farmer's field. We hid our bikes in the woods, sneaked (or snuck for you hillbillys) up to the edge of the patch, looked around to see if anyone was looking, then crept into the field. We found some nice big melons, picked one apiece, and started back to our bikes.I seem to hear Uncle Cran "scoffing in ambiguous words" as he cites the Bible here. Is he confessing guilt or exculpating himself?
Just then we heard someone yell, HEY! Then there was a loud BOOM!
Terrified, we ran for our lives, imagining the sound of buckshot whistling by our guilty heads. Just as we cleared the barbed wire fence, we heard what sounded like someone laughing their head off, but weren't sure. But we got away safely, and enjoyed the fruits of our labor.
I believe that that it is written in the Bible that 'stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant,' but this practice is also condemned.
To my knowledge, that was the last time that Edward, Donnie, cousin Paul, and I ever sneaked in someone's watermelon patch.And here to share the guilt are those other boys whose "first names" were formerly concealed "to protect the guilty." I anticipated that their anonymity wouldn't last long. Uncle Cran's snitching is followed by more self-exculpation:
I have always wondered if the man fired his shotgun straight up in the air? And do you suppose he might have "hooked" a melon or two in his day? But that was more than fifty years ago, the year of Jubilee is past, and I have forsaken that particular practice.After this latter reference to regulations enjoined by the superceded old covenant, Uncle Cran claims to have reformed:
Perhaps nephew Jeffery will realize that I have reformed, and refrain from his practice of condemnation. But you never know what will show up on Gypsy Scholar.Such a strong hint hardly being possible to courteously ignore, another of Uncle Cran's true confessions thus appears once again on this blog. I hope that he's satisfied.
But we should be wary in how we read Uncle Cran's 'confession' of this theft. Like Saint Augustine in his own youth, Uncle Cran has stolen some forbidden fruit, a recapitulation of that original theft from the tree of knowledge. Uncle Cran is not so much confessing his actions as justifying them. I see no contrition here but rather a smug self-satisfaction that says, "Everyone was doing it, but at least, I'm confessing" -- as though that made his actions somehow admirable.
Uncle Cran is still half in love with the uneaseful death consequent upon his theft of forbidden fruit. Let us leave him in that position.