It pains me to drive past an old man selling watermelons on the side of the road. Some nostalgic force makes me whip a U-turn on most occasions -- also because a ripe watermelon in the summer time is simply amazing. Over the years, I've learned that these farmers always have their own very strong opinions on how to pick a good watermelon.
Last year I found Don Marshall selling watermelons roadside in the tiny town of Holland. He told me "You cain't!" pick a good watermelon because there are too many different kinds. He was sort of grumpy about the evolution of watermelons over the years, which is OK. No one said getting this "wisdom" would be easy. Eventually Marshall relented and said that it's all about the sound and feel when you slap a watermelon.
This past weekend I was driving through the very same town and on the other side of the road was another watermelon vendor, Delmar Bennight and his wife of 53 years (never got her name). They had HUGE watermelons. More than 20 pounds each. Know what happens when you buy a 25-pound watermelon? Well, you have a lot of watermelon to eat. So, you better get a good one.
I asked him: Mr. Bennight, how does one pick a good watermelon?
Quite unexpectedly, he pulled his hat off and hit the top of his head rather hard with an open hand three times, then paused for a second before saying, "Not ripe."
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He put his hat back on, then thrust his chest out and slapped it in the center, just above his pecs three more times. I blinked hard with each hit. I was caught off guard from this unexpected show of force. His chest sounded large and hollow.
He looked at me with big eyes and said, "Perfect."
Then, he put his belly out and slapped it three times and said, "Overripe."
It was all a little jarring, but the lesson stuck. Bennight then helped me pick a good one, and after buying two bad ones at the store previously, I was thrilled to get a melon that was absolutely perfect. Like candy. Old man watermelon wisdom can a bit jarring (or grumpy) at times, but no one said picking a good watermelon was easy.