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When I was but a wee child in Comanche, there was an ice house down near the railroad tracks. I'm not sure who owned it, but I think it might have belonged to the Durhams. The Durham family had a business that made Durham drug products back then. Their stuff was probably born out of the days of snake oil sales but it was still commercially viable. Durham Drugs was housed in one end of a long building that ran along the tracks, a block or so west of where the Peanut company is now. In the other end of that building was the Ice house. The ice house manufactured huge 4 foot by 4 foot by 1 foot blocks of clear solid frozen ice that people would buy to use in their "ice boxes". "Ice boxes" was what we called them before we retooled them and started calling them refrigerators. I don't ever actually remember any of my relatives using an ice box but enough people of the time still had them to cause the Ice house to exist. Those big chunks of ice could be cut up and placed in an ice box to keep food cold enough, long enough to be edible for some time. The entire building was insulated to keep the ice from melting. In the summer one of the big rooms in that building would be full of huge rectangular blocks of ice.
My family, being in the wholesale grocery business, sold Durham Drug Products a few assorted items, and on occasion would have a need to deliver to them in that building by the tracks. So, on the certain hot, hot, hot, summer days of August, my big tall lanky Grandfather would holler at me to help him make an urgent delivery. Someone would put the ordered goods in the back of the old delivery pick-up truck and my Grandfather would lumber out and into the front seat and off to the Durham Drug Products and the Ice House we would go. We would deliver the wares to Durham's first and then back the pick-up into the loading ramp right next door at the Ice House.
Now I no longer even remember who all worked there, but I do recall going into one of those ice cold room and inevitably some big brute of a fellow grabbing me and tossing my butt up on top of one of those giant blocks of ice. What an awesome way to cool down from the summer heat. But that was not my Grandfather's mission. He was there for what was in the next room over. Open the door to that room and there before were tons of humongous Black Diamond Watermelons. Those giant melons would be stacked up the walls on both sides of that room Red meat on the left and yellow on the right. Black Diamonds was the name of the seed that created these behemoths. I believe the seeds were actually a Porter hybrid from Stephenville or maybe even a Wilhoite specialty from up at Poolville. Either way, those melons were as big as enormous green blimps. And that room was loaded with ice cold fruits. Huge, bodacious, ice-cold watermelons. Tons of 'em. We would buy at least two, and on a good day, three. The burly helpers would place the juicy green-stripped monsters gently in the back of the delivery pick-up and back to the wholesale warehouse we would fly.
My grandfather wouldn't even bother to slice the melons. He would simply drop them from waist high onto the enormous concrete loading bay out front and let them splatter in to large chunks of savory sweet meat just right for eatin’. He and I and all the working help would just stand around and carve off chunks of that splattered melon and eat it with our cuttin' knives. We didn't need silverware or plates. In those days, we didn’t have box cutters, only good sturdy "Buck" knives that we used to cut string or plastic or boxes or to use as an eating utensil for cold, red-meat, sweet watermelon. We would wipe our knives on our pant legs to clean 'em' and dig in. Someone would inevitably grab the salt shaker and generously sprinkle coarse salt over the treat we were soon to eat. Knives in one hand, and a chunk of Black Diamond in the other, an eatin’ orgy would commence. We’d all sit with our backs against the warehouse wall and gobble down that watermelon, spitting out the seeds out beyond the concrete edge of the dock. We would see who could spit their seed the furthest, all the time waving at the traffic as it passed by on Main Street. Later, in the spring, it was not unusual for little melon plants to sprout up from the cracks in the parking lot where the seed landed. But the little plants never got big enough to produce melons. Since we had no place to store what was left, we had to eat it all. And eat 'em’ all we did.
When all of us were sated from the sweet, sweet meat of that heavenly fruit, and the juice had run down our chins onto our work clothes, someone would grab the garden hose, and spray down the dock and "us" workers. Finally, someone would gather up the left over chunks of rind and toss them in the garbage bin, where the bees and the wasps would then have their heyday on the leftovers. My great grand-mother Mills would have given us grief if she had seen us throw that rind away. She loved to collect the last half inch of light green skin where the flavor is not strong and can it into watermelon rind preserves in Ball jars. But since she wasn't around we just threw it all away.
By the time we got through, it didn't seem near as hot and we weren't near as drained of energy. Of course, everyone's belly would be pooched out and no further work would be done that day. Looking back at it now, I see that it was more than just an eatin’ frenzy. It was a part of what makes a community out of a business. It was a sharing that took place among everybody. We were all on the same level with that watermelon around. No bosses. No workers. Just Mellon brothers. Mellon workers. I don't see a lot of businesses doing that anymore. Bein’ a community that is. It's a damned shame too. That sort of sharing seems to missing in American business these days. I don't recall anyone ever asking how much it cost or what the return on investment might be. No one questioned under which expenditure column it ought to go. In fact, it was probably paid for just out of my Grand-father's pocket. But what a grand tradition it made. It was that sharing that kept our employees loyal and happy. I don't see that much anymore either.
And so the summer would pass. The watermelon harvest would finally be eaten and since we did not import them from elsewhere, the season of the melon would come to a close. The ice house would slow down or maybe even shut down for the winter months. I don't even recall what year it finally closed or even when we started seeing those skimpy foreign melons in the grocery store all year long. But in those days past, life and family would go on even after the watermelons were all gone. If I was really lucky, some cold breakfast time around December or January, someone would get down a jar of my great grandmother Mills', watermelon rind preserves to remind of what had been and what was yet to come. We would hoist the preserves up on hot buttered rolls and savor the taste of summer. If we were lucky, and it was especially cold that morning, we might even feel the heat of the concrete dock below us as if it were one of those hot, hot, hot watermelon kind of summer days of August past. And as that sugar-sweetened rind meat would pass across our tongues, thoughts of family and friends would bring smiles to our faces and to our watermelon souls.
Dayyam!!!, I feel downright weepy. I think I am going to go lie down on my bare belly on the tiles in the front hallway underneath the swamp cooler and count all the daddy-longlegs I can see from that position. Maybe it will cool me down.
Stay cool Dudes and Dudettes.