Sunday, August 2, 2009

a gift of watermelon pickles

Never have i sat down and read a book of poetry through and through, except for perhaps when I was very young .... I somehow got a book ... "A Gift of Watermelon Pickles" that I loved ... my grandmother made watermelon pickles and the book was read and re-read, and at least once it was from cover to cover ... and yes, I know how to make watermelon pickles ...

I had a really good friend Perk who ran the neighborhood ice house, was 84 when he died, buried on Good Friday. Looked just like him in the casket 'cept I never knew him to wear a suit when he was alive. Sometimes i'd skip work and we'd go to a ball game - he couldn't drive that far. Or maybe he just wouldn't, all of 5 miles from home and he wouldn't do it ... curious since his former life before the ice house he was a truck driver.
And he never drank either but there he was at the ice house, serving morning beers and evicting anyone struck his fancy ...

Perk never stepped foot when they built the new ball park, fka enron field, now minute maid park ... he loved the astrodome and if they weren't playing ball there he wasn't going to go.
And he never did.

But I digress, yes...

This was a real honest to good ice house. My best friend's grandfather started it and sold hunks of ice a hundred plus years ago. He died and his son took over but in the meantime came refrigeration and so the place went from a place selling only ice to a place selling ice and beer ... really cold beer ... from 7 in the morn til midnight or 2, depending on the day and how busy. Used to be they had a lot of shift workers come in at 7 for beer, and that was the only shift Perk worked was 7 to about noon, so if you wanted to see Perk the morning is when you stopped. So me and Perk and sometimes the owner would have coffee and the paper and bananas every morning, with watermelon in the summer. Not any melon, had to be a hempstead melon, which is the kind we grew up eating and could buy 3 big ones for $5 back then. But now they were harder to find and if Perk couldn't get one Perk didn't eat watermelon.

Somebody brought him a mess of melons one day ... they looked and smelled and sounded okay to me, and they tasted just fine, but after one bite Perk wouldn't eat another one. It wasn't a hemsptead melon, and that was that.
I don't know what he did with them, there must have been about 8-10 of them, but I know for sure he ate nothing more after the first bite

Perk was kind of the granddad I didn't really have.
He shined my shoes at least every week, whether they needed it or not, whether they were ropers or pumps. I never in my life shined a shoe, but i know to use a dab of vaseline or chapstick or somesuch to cover up if necessary ...
but that's neither here nor there.

Perk would eat 3-4 melons a week in the summer if he could get the right kind ... whoever was passing through hempstead knew to bring back as many as they could. They all went into to walk in, same as the beer, and if a beer at 34 is great on a hot summer's day melon at 34 is better than most anything.
Cause this was a real gulf coast ice house ... garage doors up and a fan or two in the summer, with the sun beating down on the old shiplap building ... the smell of the place unique, not nasty like a bar but ice and old wood and the city and the heat on the concrete and smoke and whatever might be cooking, usually barbecue...

But we'd have watermelon, Perk cutting it with one of the biggest pocketknives I'd seen, and sharp too, in the hot workday mornings ... he'd cut it, stab it, pass it over to me ... dripping jiuce on the paper we're trying to read... and then he'd save me the rinds, cutting out all the red but leaving the skin for me to take off. He'd save them in the walk-in for me all week and then on a saturday or maybe a sunday i'd make 20-30 pints of watermelon pickles. If it weren't for Perk there'd be no rinds, and no pickles, cause it's hard to eat enough watermelon to get enough rinds to make it worth the work ... you wouldn't do all that work with just one or two rinds, it wold take the whole day and not much to show for it.
I never knew anyone that could eat as much watermelon as Perk.

I have not made any pickles in a long time, nor preserves nor canning of any sort. It's one thing that I can actually do well.
And no watermelon pickles since ... not for a long time.

1 comment:

brtom said...

If this were Facebook, I'd "like" this ... but since it ain't, I'll just like it. And admit that while I've read the book, I haven't eaten the pickle.

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