Growing Up – Watermelon Patch

As WWII ended, spending most of my summers at my grandma Bryan’s house, outside of Marlin, was an exciting time for me. But, as boys in a rural setting will do, we decided that we needed more excitement than just catching crawdads.

One afternoon, my cousin, Dan, said that he thought stealing some watermelons would be fun. I quickly agreed with him. Our first job was to find a patch with some ripe melons. He figured that down the lane from Grandmas, Uncle Tom Norwood’s patch would be just about ripe.

To both of us, being 10 years old, Uncle Tom was a menacing figure. Tall, erect, a retired schoolteacher and, we later discovered that he was also a former slave. Before, or during, the Civil War, he was born into slavery and at the time he must have been over 85 years old. His wife, Betty, approximately the same age and a former slave too and when we were younger she was a very caring nanny to both Dan and I. Being the closest patch around, we picked Uncle Tom’s.

We figured that it would be better if we stole the melons during the afternoon since the high temperature then would probably keep Uncle Tom inside. Down the lane, short pants and tennis shoes clad, we snuck and ahead, spotting the melon patch. Climbing through the fence we noticed some sticker kind of low, bushy flowers growing among the melons. We soon found out that these harmless looking “flowers” were really bull nettles, Cnidoscolus texanus, or stinging nettles, a very poisonous plant known to kill small animals, even small dogs. The little hairs along the leaf packed a wallop, especially on bare legs!

Finding two ripe melons was easy. The hard part was getting them out of the patch. The first thing I did was to brush against a nettle. Wow, that stung as bad as a yellow jacket (then)! Then Dan brushed against one, howling, and the race was on! Our goal of stealing melons was quickly forgotten as we dropped ‘em and scrambled out of the patch and hightailed it home.

Our legs were on fire as we told our Grandma what we’d done. In no uncertain terms, she scolded us for even thinking of taking one of Uncle Tom’s watermelons, but, kindly, she told us of an old Texas remedy for bull nettle stings, pee on the sting. We peed on each others legs and the stinging abated and we never thought again about stealing watermelons again!