Mrs. Peyton Musselthwaite remembers the days when the Watermelon Festival was just a delicious get-together in her grandfather’s backyard.
Photo by: Darrol
By Mrs. Peyton Musselthwaite
It’s Watermelon Festival time again, and every August, those of us who are long-time Museum District residents mourn the so-called “evolution” of what used to be a small, neighborhood gathering that celebrated the majesty of the world’s noblest melon.
While the organizers of the modern incarnation of the Watermelon Festival cite its age as one score and 12, the actual origins stretch back much farther into a simpler and, one could argue, a happier time.
My grandfather, Jebediah Q. Enderwhistle, the founder of the Museum District, was known for his vast collection of garden art. At a time when the district consisted of just a handful of well-established families, the Enderwhistles would often invite parents, children, and servants alike over to their expansive back garden during the hot summer evenings for refreshing glasses of lemonade, music provided by string quartets, and a sacrificial offering to our patron saint, Sedreth, the ancient Watermelon Lord.
Today’s mass gathering of people from all corners of this city, swilling beer, devouring greasy food, littering, and sucking on their “vape” sticks does no justice to the elegance of a dusk spent in our family garden. Surrounded by all manner of ceramic creatures that were eventually displayed in the city’s first museum–a chicken coop-turned-curio-cabinet on Grove Avenue–we children would each select a watermelon from a hay-cart. Our mothers would tie fresh pinafores around us so that we could cut open our melons and scoop out (with our bare hands!) the juicy, pink flesh inside, the adults drinking their cold lemonade and looking on, indulgently.
By the end of our melon-y feast, our clothing was so covered in watermelon juice, we must have looked quite the group. Indeed, I expect that had a passerby glimpsed our spattered clothing, he would have feared that he had come upon a gruesome passel of tiny murderers!
He would have nothing to fear from us, of course. None of us were allowed to get anywhere near the sacred carving instruments until we had reached peak maturity, as dictated by the High Melon Council long before any of us were born!
As the stars came out and the paper lanterns were lit, we tried our hardest to keep our eyes open while we sat on stone benches or leaned on our mothers’ knees. My grandfather–and then after he passed, my father–would select one of the lost, depraved souls that my grandmother was known for taking in and nursing back to health, and instruct him to kneel at the altar made entirely of watermelon rinds. I remember being fascinated with one garden figurine that looked so convincingly like a real rabbit and crying to my mother when its delicate white “fur” became spattered with blood.
I was just a young child of four or five and could not have been expected to understand what was necessary to keep our family–and the whole neighborhood–safe from the apocalyptic effects of an angered god for another year. Now that I am older and have young grandchildren of my own, I am so grateful to my parents and grandparents for instilling on me so early in life a sense of duty, of responsibility, and of allegiance to Sedreth, the Most Holy of All Summer Fruit Lords.
Now, young people are merely interested in a spectacle, downing their watermelon like it’s some sort of lesser fruit, just so that they have more energy to SnapTalk on their mobile phones or inject “bath salts” or whatever the latest craze is. It’s my hope that one day, my children and my children’s children will appreciate the finer things in life–being surrounded by your friends and family as well as a menagerie of ceramic animals within a blood-soaked garden, under the watchful eye of a vengeful deity.
I, for one, will not be participating in the so-called Watermelon Festival, and instead will pour myself a large glass of ice-cold lemonade, sit on my back porch, sharpen the blades my father left me, and wait for a festival-goer to wander close enough to my open garden gate.
— ∮∮∮ —
The 32nd Annual Watermelon Festival hits Carytown this Sunday, August 9th, from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. The forecast is supposed to be absolutely tolerable.