Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Miracle of the 40 Pound Watermelon

Two weeks ago I took a terrifying risk: I bought a watermelon.

Watermelon is one of my favorite summer items, yet I cringe whenever I consider buying one. It's one thing to grab an apple or a peach and find out it isn't quite ripe enough, or even to blow $1.50 on a half dozen and find out the same thing; it's something altogether different to find out that you've dropped good money on a 20-pound pile of mush in a rind. Supposedly you can tell whether a watermelon is good by tapping on it (getting a nice hollow thud, right?). I don't know. I've had too many bad experiences to feel a lot of confidence in my thud discerning abilities.

Yet there I was at Pettingill's a few days ago, standing in front of a pile of two dozen melons, debating whether one of my favorite fruits was risking the 42-cents-per-pound asking price. It felt a little high, even for seedless, but my optimism was buoyed by one experience from many years ago:

One night in the final weeks before leaving on my LDS mission, two of my friends and I were feeling brave, and decided to roll the dice on a 40-pound watermelon we found at Dick's Market. It was so big the cashier had to take it over to a special separate scale, since the standard checkstand scanner couldn't handle the weight.

The exercise was largely a joke, and watermelons must have been on sale or we wouldn't have justified it, but the moment of truth came about fifteen minutes later in my parents' kitchen. We braced the thing as it rested on top of the counter, threatening to crush my parents' stove and everything beneath it. Carefully I stuck it with a long knife and started to slice it in half. What followed was the most beautiful cracking sound I have ever heard in my life. I may be unsure about the thud test, but even I know that a ripe watermelon is supposed to crack when you cut it open. And crack it did.

I finished the cut, and we took one of the halves and divided it into three equal pieces. (If you're keeping track, we're talking seven pounds a serving.) Then we stretched some plastic wrap over the other half, and with a little work, managed to load it into the fridge. Stepping back to admire our work, I just crossed my fingers that my parents wouldn't need to go grocery shopping for another week or so.

This memory was still rolling through my mind as I asked one of the ladies at Pettingill's to help me choose a watermelon. She gave me the usual speech about hollow thumping and such, but I didn't really pay attention, because secretly I just wanted her to pick it out. That way I could place my confidence in her experience, and also blame her if it didn't pan out. She hefted one particular melon onto her shoulder, tapping it to demonstrate the thud.

"How do you feel about that watermelon?" I asked.

"I feel pretty good about this watermelon," she replied.

Spurred on by the memory of the Miracle of the 40-pound Watermelon, I decided to pull the trigger. Several hours, a bison burger at Maddox and a fresh batch of salsa later, I pulled out one of my Cutco knives and sliced into my eight-dollar purchase. There was no crack, but as the end fell open, it revealed a red interior that was just the right color and just the right consistency.

It's true that where much is given, much is required. It's also true that from great risks come great rewards. What I don't know is true is whether its the black seeds that make the cracking sound.