It was a hot day in July. I remember it well. After working hard in our yard all morning, Dad wiped the sweat from his face and neck with his handkerchief and looked up toward the east mountains.
“It would be nice and cool at Fish Lake. It’s going to be a scorcher here all day, that’s for sure.” Dad looked tired. He’d been up since dawn.
“What if I packed a lunch and we went to Fish Lake for the rest of the day?” Mama suggested.
Lorraine, the oldest of the children, was sent to Berthelson’s store for a can of deviled ham and some cheese to make sandwiches. The rest of us scurried to get ready to go. We put the camp quilt Grandma made for us in the trunk of our new 1952 Chevrolet. Now we would have something to spread out under the trees. We could put our tablecloth on it for our picnic, and Dad would have a soft place to lie and rest during the afternoon.
“If only I had time to stir up a cake,” Mama wailed. “We don’t have a thing for dessert.”
“Take some bottled fruit,” Dad advised. “It’s too hot to heat up the oven.” He was always in a hurry it seemed. Maybe he was anxious to get started so he could see how well our new car, that we had saved so long to buy, would climb steep Oak Springs Hollow Road.
Lorraine was back with the deviled ham and cheese. “They had watermelons at the store, but they cost a whole dollar.”
“Oh, let’s stop and buy one for dessert,” the rest of us chanted. We hadn’t tasted watermelon yet that year.
We counted out our money. “If we buy the watermelon, there won’t be enough left to buy gasoline,” Mama reasoned.
“Maybe we could charge it until our milk check comes?” Lorraine offered. “Mrs. Berthelson let Sue Ellen’s mama get one and pay for it later.”
“Now you know how your dad feels about buying and paying later.” Mama packed a bottle of peaches and a jar of apricot marmalade from the cellar into our lunch basket.
Daddy knew the exact spot to eat our lunch over on old Sawtooth Mountain. He’d been there when he was a Boy Scout and had never forgotten the fun he had. We couldn’t drive all the way up, so we parked at the foot of the steep trail and carried our things up the mountainside. We found a place where tall trees grew, and shade was as dense as green velvet. There on a little plateau, by a trickling stream fed by snowbanks, near the top of the mountain, we spread out the quilt.
Mama sent us upstream to fill the water jug. Lo and behold, what did we spy but a plump watermelon nestled among wet gray rocks in the water!
“Come and see,” we shouted. “Come see what we found.”
The whole family came immediately to the spot. Everyone stared in amazement, taking turns touching the melon. It was icy cold.
“Heavenly Father must have known just how much we wanted a watermelon for our lunch,” little Geraldine laughed, clapping her hands for joy.
That melon was as crisp as a September morn. It would crack when we opened it. We could just see its ripe perfection, taste its juicy sweetness.
“Heavenly Father knew how much we like watermelon,” Lorraine added.
“Heavenly Father doesn’t have melons grow in water,” Dad remarked. “He makes them grow on vines. No, somebody put that melon in this creek to cool, and somebody will be coming back to get it.”
We looked all around. We couldn’t see anyone, not even footprints. We listened. We couldn’t hear a thing except the gurgling of water tumbling over rocks. Yet in our hearts we knew it would be wrong to take something that did not belong to us.”
“Oh, Dad, you’re such a killjoy. Maybe whoever put it there forgot where it is, and if we don’t eat it, it might just lie there and spoil.”
Disappointment showed in our faces.
“What is the matter with bottled peaches?” Dad coaxed back our smiles.
Bottled peaches would be just fine.
We left the cold melon where it was. We ate our lunch, including peaches for dessert, and while we were eating no one mentioned watermelon. As we walked down the trail back to the car and all the way home, we wondered if anyone would come for it.
Sometimes I think about that watermelon. Whenever I cut into a crisp melon that cracks open to reveal a deep red heart, or I eat a bite of the sweet, juicy fruit, I remember that day in the mountains when Dad taught us simply by his example a lesson in a long line of lessons that have shaped our lives.