My Immoderate Melon Man

Because I'm not keen to repeat the folly of last summer, I might tear out the pages featuring cantaloupes from the 1998 seed catalogs arriving in my mailbox. My husband is a melon fancier, and after a week in our home, the catalogs fall open to melons.

I was alerted to his passion the first time we visited my parents together. A slice of melon smiled up from his plate, and he stared at it in disbelief. Later, he told me that in his family watermelons were served by the half and that each person ate a whole cantaloupe. Despite his motto, "Everything in moderation," there was no moderation with melons.

Last winter was inordinately long for Michigan, and while the snow drifted outdoors, my husband's "melon wish list" grew. I've always suspected that the photos used in the catalogs were taken with an orange filter in order to titillate a gardener's senses. There were the old faithful varieties he could not live without, like Ambrosia, but there were many new and unusual varieties that tempted him, too. Finally, I rolled my eyes and told him to order as many varieties as he wished. He had recently plowed up more ground for what I dubbed "the hungry boy annex" so we could satisfy our teenage sons' appetites. There was room for a melon sampler.

In April, I opened a dozen packets of cantaloupe seeds and three of watermelons and planted more than three flats of melons. We watched them germinate, and my husband and sons prophesied over which variety would be the best. June arrived, and there were more than 100 melon plants ready for transplanting. I tried to label an occasional transplant as I set them out, but I tend to be a "mystery gardener."

If a seedling dies in a flat, and I need to thin out another six-pack, I just plop any plant needing breathing room in the spare spot. Along the way, the varieties mingle, and by planting time I never can remember what's what.

A melon is a melon is a melon to me, but not to the king of cantaloupes. When the globes yellowed and their scent filled the air, we scrambled to match the catalog photo and description with the ripe fruit. My husband was determined to decipher which type of melon he was tasting. Finally, when the harvest averaged more than a dozen melons a day, it no longer mattered which variety was being sliced. Each meal began with melon, and spoons were brought out for the afternoon snack. My husband and sons kept records of how many melons they collectively consumed in one day. I shook my head when the tally reached 16.

AFTER that, we sent friends home with a selection of melons: "You must compare this heirloom variety with this French hybrid!" we'd wheedle. The flow finally dwindled, and in October we ate the last watermelon stored in our garage. And yet, I doubt if last year's overabundance will matter to the males in this house. When those first melons reach the supermarket, they will hover about the produce section, sniffing and salivating. The seed catalogs will still flip open to cantaloupes, but maybe next spring I'll remember to write out labels.

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