We never threw away the rind

TELEVISION justice continues to have its hilarious moments, and there was a recent episode when an affable-enough gentleman stood accused of stealing two watermelons. There he sat, looking like any good little boy's doting grandfather, and they had the two watermelons as evidence on the table before him. The store manager said the old duffer simply picked up these two watermelons at the fruit counter and walked them past the checkouts to the parking lot, where he was apprehended. I was much taken by the judge in this momentous litigation. He sat in extreme dignity, giving full attention to the testimony, and assuring us by every gesture and expression that Lady Law would never tread awry in his vicinity.

And I was much taken by the watermelons. They were not these new-day marvels of the hybrid seedsmen but looked like the real old thick-skinned whoppers of the days when Mother told us never to throw away the rinds.

Then she made watermelon rind pickles, which caused us to look up and ask what the poor people were eating. The new kinds of wonder watermelons are bred rindless and don't suit for pickles, but these before the bar in the TV courtroom looked as if prosperity were back.

Years ago, I took John Hooper to the Big Island Pond ``camp'' of the M'egantic Club to toy with the famous man-eating trout of the region, which is far up in the Maine woods. This club was, and is, a gentlemen's retreat. Members too well-heeled to mow their own lawns would, and do, go there to exercise strenuously in the rugged paradise of remote Seven Ponds Township at great expense. I never belonged, but knew the club's president of the moment and enjoyed his courtesies.

In those days the Big Island Pond camp was reached by six miles of wilderness footpath. There was no other way to arrive, and everything needed to operate this posh camp had to come in a packbasket on somebody's shoulders. The members resisted innovation, and it was some years after Hooper's visit that pond-hopping airplanes were permitted.

So it was quite something to sit at table at Big Island Pond, with linen, silver, and crystal, and dine sumptuously so far from anywhere. There was a gusto to strawberries and cream that helped you forget that somebody had toiled them six miles around Snow Mountain. John Hooper was impressed, and then he began to wonder, as we ate, if there might be something the camp manager had neglected to provide. He ran over in his mind the most improbable things. Then he beckoned Elsie, who was the waitress and wore a neat apron and had a cap.

``Would you have some watermelon pickles?'' he asked.

Elsie brought a silver pickle dish with a generous supply of watermelon rind pickles.

I was grateful to the television judge for rousing in me this recollection, and then I remembered something else from the thitherward side of my lost youth.

There used to be a pushcart vendor in Boston's North End who did business by the curb on Causeway Street where he got the thrust of the commuters through North Station. Everybody knew John Faldetti and wondered where he found such magnificent fruit. None of the stores had fruit to match his.

When the watermelon season arrived, John would have them piled high around his pushcart and he would make his annual offer. He would give a free watermelon to anybody who would carry one around the block with one hand. The customer was challenged to take the watermelon in the crook of his arm like a football and carry it without using his other hand or setting the watermelon down for a rest. John had some youngsters who would go along with anybody who tried that, to make sure nobody cheated.

John never gave away a watermelon. The human skeleton and the muscles attached will not stand up under the test. When that melon begins to slip, and it will, the strongest man's strength works against him, and John Faldetti had won again. But John's offer went on for years and years and in watermelon season there was usually somebody trying to get around the block with one hand. Now I returned from the memory to the courtroom, and the judge was still listening intently to the lawyers and evincing great wisdom.

Now, too, somebody said supper was ready and I closed the TV and responded. I don't know what happened to the watermelon felon. Maybe the judge did ask him to stand up and carry two watermelons out of the courthouse and into the parking lot, thus proving something John Faldetti knew going-on 60 years ago.

Meantime, I've always liked Bill Nye's story of the gentleman who took a watermelon to the Fourth of July picnic in Whalen's Grove, and during the patriotic address he cut it and ``distributed it lavishly amongst himself.''

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