Suikawari

Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Author’s note: Suikawari is the Japanese word for “watermelon splitting.” This story is based on real events, but some artistic license has been taken and names have been changed.

Kids growing up in the farming communities of America’s heartland during the last quarter of the 20th century didn’t take much for granted. Our parents were the farmers that fed America; the steelworkers that kept farm equipment running; and the civil servants who educated us, delivered our mail, and kept the peace. We worked hard at home if not at school, and we lived for summertime shenanigans.

 Summer bounty was the one thing we did take for granted. Whether or not our parents farmed, midsummer meant plenty of fresh produce. In the community where I grew up, vegetable gardens in town grew nearly out of control. Different neighbors grew different produce. Everyone shared, and no one in a three-state area grew watermelons like Jack Schneider.

 The elderly man had four acres just outside town, and he planted two of them with watermelon every year. He sold some—enough to supplement his social security income—and gave away most. On the last Sunday of June, he would pile the bed of his white F150 high with watermelons and drive the mile and a half to the church on the corner where, after Sunday school, every church member—from toddlers to octogenarians—would feast on the sweet red flesh.

The abundance made everyone giddy. During watermelon feeds, seed-spitting contests amused everyone. Kids under 10 years old had the opportunity to attempt eating an entire watermelon on their own. This one time a year, waste wasn’t a vice. After all, we couldn’t can, freeze or otherwise preserve the watermelon. 

One summer, a friend of Jack’s who taught history at the local high school hosted a group of Japanese exchange students. Arrangements were made for the students to spend time with the kids who attended Jack’s church. We took them shopping at the local mall—a novelty to us as well as to them at that time. We took them on excursions to western Kansas to see Dodge City and the Dalton Gang hideout. We spent a few Wednesday evenings teaching them games we liked to play and learning about their culture as well. Eventually, we learned that most of our visitors came from wealthy families. We stared in amazement when one boy purchased three pairs of Air Jordans because the $120 shoes were so cheap. Then we learned that only a couple of them had ever tasted watermelon because it was so expensive in Japan. Someone called Jack.

The night before the Japanese kids were scheduled to return home, we all gathered at the history teacher’s house for a goodbye party. When Jack pulled into the driveway, the bed of his truck piled high with watermelon, our visitors gasped in amazement. We shared an American-style cookout with our new friends that night, but the watermelons were the highlight of the evening. After their first tentative bites, our guests began to devour the fruit as eagerly as the rest of us. 

Someone recommended a seed-spitting contest. The Japanese kids hesitated. It seemed barbaric to them, but the high spirits of the evening overcame their reservations. By the time the sun sank below the horizon, the celebrating had grown reckless. Several watermelons remained unfinished, and a few kids started a food fight with the remaining fruit. The history teacher, feeling the revelry had gone too far, asked them to stop.

Just then, the Japanese boy who had purchased three pairs of Air Jordans grabbed a handful of ruby-colored watermelon flesh and let it fly at me. Nimbly, I jumped out of the way, and the crimson chunk hit Jack on the shoulder. The boy’s face froze in terror. Silence rang out across the moonlit backyard. Jack looked at the boy, smiled, then reached down to grab a hunk of watermelon from a nearby plate. The entire crowd dissolved into laughter as the watermelon caught the boy square in the chest, and the food fight was on once again.

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Mobilizing Friendship

Author’s Note: I composed this about a week ago and have hesitated to post it due to the high volume of truth tucked into this piece of fiction. However, it has met with positive reviews in my writers group, so I’m sharing with this word of caution: The characters in this story, aside from the narrator, which is mostly just the author as herself, although they may resemble people from real life, are all fictitious. While the story is inspired by real events, many details have been changed.

 

By Grombo (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Grombo (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Mobilizing Friendship

Fused bones in my feet at birth provided significant challenges for me growing up. Although with determination and intense orthopedic care I learned to walk, keeping up with everyone else was usually an unattainable goal. While other kids lagged behind adults because they were dawdling, I lagged behind because my legs simply couldn’t move any faster. Most of the time, my dad just broke down and carried me.

At school, I often resorted to sitting on the steps in front of our classroom rather than attempting to join in fast-paced playground games. Talking with teachers or daydreaming helped me pass the time.

As a teen, I worked hard to keep up with others my age. I poured my energy into youth activities at church. I traveled on mission trips, acted in dramatic productions and toured the Midwest with a puppet team. When it came time for fundraisers, I worked alongside more able-bodied teenagers, waiting tables at charity dinners and slinging Cokes at concession stands. When my swollen feet could no longer bear my weight, I laughed the pain away and found something productive I could do from a seated position.

My determination earned the respect of other teens. One friend who had been like a brother to me growing up decided there was no reason for me to fall behind or miss out on adventures when he could do something about it. I don’t remember the first time we made the arrangement, but throughout high school, we traveled as a team. I would walk as long as my legs allowed. Then Andrew would carry me piggyback for the rest of the excursion.

Andrew carried me around the Smithsonian museums in Washington, across the boardwalks of several old cow towns in Kansas and around the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I rode on his back through Silver Dollar City and Branson, Missouri. We enjoyed Orlando together as he carried me piggyback around the Magic Kingdom and Sea World. Even the French Quarter of New Orleans found me riding on the back of my caring, fit and loyal friend. In Texas, he got a break when we went horseback riding together. After my temperamental mare did her best to buck me off, I kept my feet on the ground for the rest of that trip. In the inner city of Nassau, Bahamas, Andrew once again provided transportation for me as we picked through trash-filled neighborhoods on our way back to our hotel from the mission worksite.

After high school graduation, Andrew married the girl he’d been dating for the past year and a half. I went on to college. We lost touch. I kept up my habit of working hard—joined a mime troupe, found a cure for my ailing legs in reflexology and energy treatments, learned to dance.

Yesterday, I read an obituary online. Andrew died unexpectedly two weeks ago. I hadn’t seen him since his wedding. I never verbalized how much he meant to me—although what our friendship meant to each other was never lost on those who saw us together. I don’t know why we lost touch originally, but losing Andrew this way—that shouldn’t have happened.

Of Nicknames and Embarrassing Moments

It’s a little early for me to post my response to the weekly LinkedIn challenge, but this week’s prompt “My Most Embarrassing Moment” struck a chord with me immediately. A few of my readers will recognize this story, at least in part.

 

Heehee Marie

As nicknames among adolescents go, “Heehee Marie” wasn’t that bad, even for a serious kid like me. It  out-ranked names like “Leetle Ree-chard” and “Frogger,” which were thrust upon friends of mine.

The problem with being called “Heehee Marie” was that I didn’t understand it. I understood the nicknames of others in the youth group. Joy acquired the name “Surprise” when the quiet 12-year-old hollered “Hail, Hitler!” during a lull in a lunchtime conversation about relatives from the Soviet Union. The youth group quickly explained the difference between Nazis and Communists to her, but the nickname stuck. Tommie earned the nickname “Photo Dweeb” after snapping over 260 pictures during a single trip to Texas. Since these nicknames were doled out justly, I could only assume that mine also had been somehow earned.

Taking everything seriously was in my nature, so I dutifully asked members of the group why they called me “Heehee.” Usually I received a non-committal shrug. Jason, nicknamed “Hobie” after a brand of clothing he often wore,  had originated my nickname, and he finally pacified me by stating that the name just rhymed.

I wasn’t upset by the nickname, and it had already stuck, so I let the matter lie. To some people, I would always be “Heehee Marie.” Since most of those people liked me well enough, I could live with the nickname. It rhymed. I guess that made them happy. Why shouldn’t I be happy as well?

I spent the bulk of my teenage years with that group. A few like Angela, also known as “Giggles” because she actually had a sense of humor, graduated ahead of me while other, younger teens came into the group.

Eventually, I graduated high school and said my goodbyes. Before leaving for college, I had one final event in which to take part—a national quiz bowl tournament. For six years, I had competed in quiz bowl, and my goal was to earn a place in the top 10 individual quizzers in the nation. At my previous national quiz, the pressure had overwhelmed me. This time would be different.

During the final four rounds, the tournament was being recorded as well as televised locally. Since my team and I were scoring well, I began to relax from my typically serious bent of mind. One of my team members even discovered that I indeed had a sense of humor and took pleasure in tickling it at inopportune moments. Toward the end of a round, he whispered something in my ear that made me giggle just before the quiz master announced, “Question number . . .” After the next question, the captain of the opposing team decided to challenge the quiz master’s ruling. The quiz master requested the audio technician to replay the answer so he could review it.

The technician wound the old-fashioned reel-to-reel recording backward too far, to the exact moment when I had laughed at my team member’s joke. The auditorium sat in silence. Throughout the room and across the airwaves came my squeaky, high-pitched laugh, “HeeHEE!” Snap. The technician fast-forwarded the reel, stopped it at the correct spot and replayed the answer.

Suddenly, the reason for my nickname dawned on me—in front of the entire world. I could feel my face turning crimson. As the team captains and the quiz master came to some decision, I rationalized to myself—maybe no one else realized that was my laugh. After all, there were several others within range of the sound equipment.

Just before the final question of the round, my humorous team member leaned over and whispered in my ear, “HeeHEE.” Once again my face turned crimson. My hopes were dashed. Everyone knew, as I now knew, exactly why my nickname was “Heehee Marie.”

HeeHee Marie and Joy, aka "Surprise," at the pinnacle of Pike's Peak, circa 1992

Heehee Marie and Joy, aka “Surprise,” at the pinnacle of Pike’s Peak, circa 1992