Watermelon-Seed Spitting Contest

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: DOWN-HOME


Virgil, an Army trainee soldier awaits a train in at a depot in Columbia, S.C. He will travel home to Florida between Basic and A.I.T. training. Sitting on the platform bench two hours, he recalls
when as a youngster living with Aunt Eva and Uncle Corbett on their West Florida farm, episodes involving hard work mixed with fun.


 

WATERMELON SEED-SPITTING CONTEST

TRIBUTE TO AUNT EVA AND UNCLE CORBETT

 

Painting & Story Based on Historical Fact by: Virgil Dube’ - Copyright 2017

 

NOVEMBER 1, 2017

 

After dreaming he sat at the train depot awaiting a train to take him home just after military basic training, Virgil awakened at 5:00 a.m. He lay in semi-darkness thinking about that day in May 1964, five decades ago. Dreams sometimes made no sense, why they manifest usually puzzled the dreamer, this unexpected dream no different. He shifted thoughts to a project he decided to undertake after breakfast. Recently he had pulled from his archives a cartoon sketch of a farm boy and his dog spitting watermelon seeds at each other in a farm field. Minus any story to accompany the picture he was now painting, he realized he had subconsciously linked the train depot and picture during his slumber in the night. Suddenly, somehow, he desired to link the two. When he recalled eating melons with his brother Joe in their Aunt Eva and Uncle Corbett’s watermelon patch on their farm, an idea manifest. The more he delved on the emerging concept to tie picture and prospective story, the more motivated he became. First thing, he would call Doug (Joe), then other brothers Alfred and Clifford, to line up historical facts and then commence to shape and write the story.

Following is his results with input from his three brothers.

 

THE TRAIN PLATFORM

 

Except for bright floodlights illuminating the long platform between arrays of railroad tracks, darkness prevailed around the young soldier in dress uniform, Virgil his name. Seated alone on the wood bench thirty minutes ago, he awaited a train after finishing basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina just outside Columbia. He was on military break before returning in three weeks to undergo Advance Infantry Training.

The ticket clerk had informed him his train yet to arrive wouldn’t leave for another couple hours, which meant he would have to wait. He checked his watch, it showing 8:03 p.m. With spare time, he entertained himself with wandering thoughts. When he arrived here 7 weeks ago from Jacksonville by train, he was directed to a military shuttle-bus headed to Fort Jackson, overwhelmed by apprehension regarding his immediate future, not sure what lay behind the next bend in life. He hadn’t performed as a trainee with mediocrity. He had executed the arduous tasks and duties with excellence. The grueling long marches didn’t challenge him an athlete, as they did many trainees. The PT, all those push-ups, obstacle course alligator crawls sloshing through mud, and over prickly brush under machinegun fire, had in part maintained his good physical condition. The hand-to-hand combat training wasn’t to his liking – to outfight then bayonet another person likely detesting killing as much as he. However, he recognized the physical and mental drill as necessary, which someday might save his life. Marksmanship training was to his liking and where he shined; felt he might challenge the present post record of 112 out of a possible 120, expert being 68. On the 300 meter qualifying range with popup targets spaced 50 meters apart from 50 meters outward, he shot 92 from squat and kneeling position, even though his M-14 rifle wind and elevation clickers were misaligned after at some point striking his frontal helmet bib. As squad leader in Platoon 2, his troops respected and followed his example. He performed CQ and guard duties with decorum, and marched the entire company of 4 platoons – not precisely, but decently.

Sitting on the hard bench turning on occasion to alleviate butt cramping, he gazed down the long lighted platform, most benches empty, few people milling about. Having tolerated intrusive noise and condition on base for weeks, he quickly adjusted to the far-off non-intrusive city sounds, adapted to immediate trains coming and going, and embraced general night quietness, so much so he began to focus more on pleasant reminisces than troop training, one flashback following another.

During his youth his mother Hardie led him and his little brother Douglas on a similar train depot platform to enter an awaiting train car. He recalled being excited, yet apprehension at what was happening, where he and Doug were headed for however long, maybe forever.

 

FLASHBACK

 

Near crying, Hardie said, “Boys, this separation will be a short while and allow me to heal faster after my last breakdown. Your Aunt Eva is eager to take you two for a period, because your daddy is too busy making a living to fill my shoes. He can’t break from working to keep care of you with me ill.” She looked intently at Virgil, he the oldest by nearly two years, and said, “Son, the conductor knows you two are riding the train alone. I’ve have been assured you will be safe, because he will check on you regularly in your train car. When passengers are informed the train has arrived in Quincy, he will help you get off safely. You and Doug must walk from the depot to the city jailhouse down the street; you must stay together. While there, your Uncle Corbett Mathews’ nephew Jimmie, the jail-keeper while the sheriff is busy or out patrolling, will keep you until Corbett arrives later in the afternoon to take you to his home north of Quincy. Do you understand?”

Virgil nodded, Doug too. Their mother stood, and took each boy’s hands in hers. She led them to the train car and conductor neatly dressed in his uniform, waiting beside the steps to assist them up, a smile on his face.

“Goodbye. Be good, my boys,” Hardie said, then walked away crying.

 

THE TRAIN PLATFORM

 

Virgil rechecked his watch, it showing 8:07, time galore before the train arrives. He took a Powerhouse candy bar from his coat pocket that he purchased in the depot, unwrapped it, and began eating. The delicious chocolate stimulated further reminisces, interrupted briefly when a stray dog appeared from the dark to straddle a track. His nose raised, he watched Virgil keenly, sensing him eating the treat. Virgil pinched the end of his candy bar off and tossed it to the dog, he snatching it up in one gulp. Then a train whistle pierced the night’s stillness. Startled, the dog vanished leaving Virgil to wonder how he survived wandering these dangerous tracks.

Resettled, he remembered that the train ride to Quincy as uneventful, an adventure he and Doug enjoyed. He recalled walking with Doug from the depot to the jailhouse, and introducing himself and his brother to Jimmie the jail keeper.

 

FLASHBACK

 

The home Uncle Corbett and Aunt Eva recently had built was a nice white wood frame structure located in rural country on a Y-intersection. It sat on a point where two clay roads met a third road and continue northward toward not too distant South Georgia. A spare room built into the house side and facing a cut-through road, was transformed into a quaint store with basic everyday items, and two gas pumps outside. A barn and adjacent chicken coop were a short distance behind the main house surrounded by a lawn. A cornfield stretched a distance beyond these structures, at a greater expanse a deserted wood-frame house stood unoccupied. The modest old place was where Aunt Eva and Uncle Corbett previously lived. In addition, a separate small store stood adjacent it, that Uncle Corbett operated for local people to buy immediate and necessary commodities, plus gasoline, a service he transferred to his new store.

Having no children, Aunt Eva and Uncle Corbett were delighted to take the boys they now considered their own, to settle them securely in the same bedroom. Aunt Eva the primary caregiver, was kind, but forthright and no slouch when it came to instructing ones obligation, cleanliness, and purpose. After instructing the boys the rules of the house, and they adhering to them and acclimating to their new residence, her first task was school enlistment. The nearest elementary school, Mount Pleasant, was a brick building located in the boonies, where a school bus necessitated transportation for children to and from school.

 

THE TRAIN PLATFORM

 

Shifting his position on the bench, Virgil searched the tracks for the stray dog. Apparently frightened, he wasn’t returning for a second handout.

Virgil popped the remainder of the candy bar in his mouth and checked his watch. It showed 8:10; lots of time before his train arrives. He lifted his duffle bag from the platform floor and placed it on the bench. It was perfect to lean on to help alleviate mounting discomfort. Swallowing the last of the tasty chocolate, he slumped against the bag for better relaxation. Settled in place, he remembered the rural elementary schoolhouse in north Gadsden County. The school held memories unforgettable for he and his brother Doug, two in particular, both embarrassing at that time long ago.

 

FLASHBACK

 

Three grades occupied one classroom, and were divided into sections. Doug in the first grade was seated to the teacher’s extreme right. The second grade occupied the center section. Virgil in the third grade was seated to the teacher’s extreme left. The first day of school the students were asked to stand before the class and announce their names, parent’s names, and where they lived. Older kids on the left spoke initially, Virgil one of the first. However, Doug on the opposite side of the classroom began to squirm in his seat. He needed to pee badly and was afraid to ask the teacher to be excused to the restroom. Finally, it was his turn to stand before the classroom. He was in crisis, his floodgate straining to stay shut. For the brief minute seeming eternal, he faced the class terrified, paralyzed to speak, squirming, heisting alternately one leg before the other and squeezing to hold back what was forthcoming if he didn’t get quick relief. Panicked as the floodgate strained to open, unthinkingly, and on sheer impulse, he turned and dashed toward the classroom front wall, unzipping his fly on the run to the front blackboard where he stopped and let it fly. His backside to the cackling classroom, he thoroughly drenched the blackboard. While the quick-responding custodian was cleaning the collected puddle, his teacher said compassionately, apologetically, that she understood belatedly his situation, and he new to school, pardoned him. Minutes later he and Virgil in the hallway, she suggested to the approaching school principle it best she call Eva Mathews about what happened, and for her to come get both boys.

The brothers acclimated to Mount Pleasant Elementary School thereafter, except when a very unusual thing happened to them and every other kid. All kids were instructed to take a small clear plastic container home, and place a poo-poo sample into it, then return the container and contents to school promptly for clinical analysis to determine if they had worms or any other detrimental pathogen. Virgil and Doug felt uncomfortable doing this dreadful request, and were sure all kids felt exactly as they, intolerable embarrassment inevitable. It would be extremely awkward concealing the containers everyone knew everybody else carried their personal poo-poo. How terrible it would be for a container to accidentally slip from ones coat or pants pocket, a girl’s purse or sweater pocket and fall for everyone to garishly gaze upon … yucky-poo-poo! It wasn’t clear to Virgil remembering how it first began on the school bus, but someone’s poo-poo became visible and subsequent commotion commenced. The icy climate and inhibition vaporized to become a calamitous event. And once started, most everyone uninhibited began to unveil his or her poo-poo. One boy said to a friend that his with greenish coloration and visible kernels looked like he had recently eaten collard greens with corn. Another boy asked his companion proudly displaying his if he had eaten hay because of the extreme stringy stuff. The girls also entered the hilarious act, only between themselves in tight huddles; their snickers subdued compared the boys’ sometimes-boastful outbursts.

 

THE TRAIN PLATFORM

 

As Virgil checked his watch, 8:40 and train arrival creeping nearer, he thought, my vulnerable little brother Douglas embarrassed in front of his school classroom, is commonly known today as Joe Dube, a heavyweight weightlifter aspiring to become national or world champ … what a contrast.

He chuckled remembering that time now blurry in his mind, and the poo-poo calamity on the school bus. As he leaned forward to stretch his back, nearby voices diverted his attention. Two people had seated themselves on the bench next to him about ten feet away. An elderly woman and beautiful young girl looked his way. The aged lady said proudly she was the girl’s grandmother, and they were traveling back to Florida. Virgil responded, ‘hello, me too, pleased to meet both of you’. Briefly chatting, he settled back to relax further during his long wait. The woman and girl resumed private conversation for which he politely ignored, preferring instead to delve in bygone days … and the watermelon patch.

 

FLASHBACK

 

Aunt Eva a slight woman, but commanding in caring manner, demanded her nephews be clean inside and outside, threatening that if they didn’t wash their ears properly, she would scrub them raw with a dry corncob. Dreading the corncob scrubbing, both adhered to self-cleanliness and were squeaky-clean most of the time. They awakened one morning to find a tablespoon of caster oil crudely implanted in their mouths. Aunt Eva warned them drowsy and about to choke, if they didn’t swallow the awful-tasting stuff, there would be consequences. Much later Virgil asked her why she surprised them in such stern manner. She answered, “If I were to try and make you two take your caster oil to clean out your innards, you would resist and run away. The element of surprise beats the alternative.” It was arranged on occasion that Virgil and Douglas dutifully take their caster oil with fruit juice swallowed promptly afterward for optimum inner cleanliness. They remained obedient to occasional internal cleansing not chancing future morning-surprise alternative.

Aunt Eva also nitpicked the boys do assigned chores. The slow-growing lawn hardly ever needed mowing, though weeds would inevitably infringe and be a sore-eye. When grass did reach an intolerable height, Virgil bigger pushed the cumbersome rotating-blade mower, and he and Doug weeded hard-to-get-to infestations, especially adjacent fences, which both loathed. Other chores included gathering hen eggs every morning from the smelly chicken coop, sometimes picking corn in the fields, then shucking it piled in the corncrib for hog feed, rooting peanuts and potatoes, and hoeing weeds in long crop rows.

One day they were asked to gather hoes and go weed a peanut patch a fair distance from the house. During the chore and near a watermelon patch, Virgil and Doug decided to eat one of the bigger melons. They placed the heavy melon in a nearby stream to cool as they worked, and later broke it open to enjoy a fresh and delicious feast in the open field, nobody near to share or challenge their indulgence. What they didn’t know was that Aunt Eva and Uncle Corbett expected this and considered it a reward for their labor.

 

THE TRAIN PLATFORM

 

The remembrance triggered Virgil to laugh aloud. The elderly woman and girl turned their heads sharply. Their quizzical look necessitated him to counter, “Sorry ladies, just recalling old times as a boy, one occurrence that is downright funny.”

The woman grinned, “Know what you mean, sonny. The older you get the more frequent memories become, and harder by the year to remember the details.”

Virgil agreed. Then he checked his watch. It showed 9:00, half way before his train arrives. The watermelon feast delighted him so he laughed again. The woman and girl responded with a friendly understanding smile.

Then he remembered Uncle Corbett’s hogs wandering freely in perimeter fields, he also a hog farmer.

 

FLASHBACK

 

Often, Uncle Corbett hauled a 55-gallon drum in the back of his Dodge pickup truck to Quincy. Restaurants there donated scraps he collected to feed his hogs. One day he asked Virgil and Doug to accompany him to ‘slop the hogs’ a distance on the farm. Ten minutes later, he backed his truck close to the feeding trough, the tires sinking in oozy mud. “Suey, suey,” he called loudly from the truck’s flatbed, hogs squealing in answer and appearing from afar, many emerging from the field on a frantic run. As they amassed around the long V-shaped wood trough, squawking and grunting, glaring wide-eyed in expectation at Uncle Corbett, pushing and stepping over each other, Uncle Corbett maneuvered the heavy loaded drum toward the open tailgate. He scooped and tossed buckets of slops until the drum was half empty. Then he tilted it carefully to pour the remaining reeking muck into the trough. Some of the slops splashed on the backsides of squealing and grunting hogs in frenzy. Jostling for position, hogs unable to reach the trough, and treat, relished what they could scoff from others’ backs, lastly to plunge their snouts into the flavorful mud. Virgil off the truck a safe distance chased a small pig. When finally he caught the squealing piglet, he found its body rock-hard, so slick and squirmy he could only hold it a few seconds.

There were times later when Uncle Corbett held hog-killings, whereby neighbors attended and participated. Though the boys were young and not previously exposed to such an affair, they watched the actual killing, bleeding, scalding the hogs in buried drums of scalding water to better pull out hair until the hog was bald, the butchering, packaging meat for Corbett himself, and disbursal to others of the entire hog that would be used as food.

Certain facts of life were blatantly learned while living with Aunt Eva and Uncle Corbett, valuable lessons that when added to many forthcoming experiences, molded all four Dube’ boys into seasoned adults. Virgil and his siblings cherished these experiences of their youth, and were thankful opportunity existed whereby their loving in-laws clearly impacted later family.

 

THE TRAIN PLATFORM

 

The train couldn’t be much longer arriving, Virgil considered, as he glanced again at his watch, the time being 9:45. No longer leaning on the duffle bag, he shifted his rump oppositely to settle upright and more comfortably on the bench. Flashbacks continued, one suddenly manifesting whereby he realized from that one instance long ago he had not ridden a horse, and he understood the reason why not.

 

FLASHBACK

 

Uncle Corbett used his cranky mule to plow fields and pull his corn cart. One day he told his nephews he wanted to visit a neighbor, and asked them if they would enjoy riding with him and while there ride the neighbor’s white horse. Doug was quick to respond he would like to, and in the neighbor’s farmyard was first up on the bareback horse. Uncle Corbett stayed close not to let him fall, though Doug experienced a bouncy ride. Virgil fearful did not step forward as eagerly as Doug. Finally coaxed to try next, Uncle Corbett hoisted him up on the horses’ bare back and handed him the reins. He the oldest, wasn’t watched as keenly as was his little brother. The horse led by Uncle Corbett quickened his pace, which jarred his rider so much he kept slipping back, finally loosing his grip on the reins. Before Uncle Corbett could reach him, Virgil slipped over the horses’ hips and tail and landed hard on the weedy ground on his rump.

Virgil had enough horseback riding that day to last him years, though as an artist, his favorite drawing subject was ultimately the horse. It was better cowboys in Virgil’s beloved western movies ride their famous horses than he a little boy or later grown man.

 

THE TRAIN PLATFORM

 

The time reached 9:55 and the train whistle Virgil expected blew in the distance. Soon it would chug-a-lug to the platform and unload passengers. Then he and the scant number of riders waiting would board for their destinations south.

Virgil loved his Aunt Eva dearly, she like a second mother. And he idolized his Uncle Corbett, though sometimes his uncle displayed an over indulgence Aunt Eva tolerated until he sobered, like beer, sometimes whiskey. Uncle Corbett had worked long ago as an electrician in Jacksonville, where climbing a pole he had a terrible accident that sprained his knee badly. Not adequately treated, the knee stiffened, to become a condition he never recovered … a permanent stiff leg resulting in a gait that became one of his physical lifelong characteristics, probably the root of his drinking. It was then that Virgil remembered one incident, sadly.

 

FLASHBACK

 

Uncle Corbett gave in to his indulgence one day while Virgil and Douglas had free time and was out playing. The two out in the field drifted to and rounded a corner of the old place to find him swigging from a whiskey bottle, drunk and in a wretched state. Sprawled, one leg tucked, the stiff one stretched out on the dilapidated old porch planks. He slurred to them creeping away, “Don’t you boys dare make light of me, for sober I will switch you, so help me.” Both boys recognized him grumpy, not speaking cohesively, and that he had never nor would ever lift a hand to harm either of them. He and Aunt Eva had sworn to take good care of them until Hardie and Joseph were able to continue raising them.  He was always kind, giving, and considerate of them equally. If either of the boys strayed into his little store, Uncle Corbett usually slipped him a candy bar, and asked him not to let Eva know, since she was a stickler for rules.

Virgil remembered a time later when he and Doug as adults shared an experience that so defined Uncle Corbett’s frank and good nature, and character. Attending a relative’s funeral in Tallahassee, the two got together and asked him, “Uncle Corbett, what do you think of today’s youth?”

Uncle Corbett mulled a moment, his face of deep wrinkles contorting, inwardly seeking an appropriate answer for his two fun-loving nephews. Looking keenly at them, doubtless they wanted his downhome frankness mingled with humor, he grinned, and answered, “Well now, boys, it’s like this … today kids go to the beach near naked and lay on the hot sand burning their bodies to a crisp. When at home and asked by their parents to mow the lawn, they declare, ‘Why, mom or dad, I can’t, it’s too dang hot outside under the burning sun’.”

Not only did Virgil and Doug bend over laughing hysterically, Uncle Corbett aware of their good-natured intent, cackled also. Sometimes this seemingly tough but good man prone to indulgence of the bottle occasionally could be a real sport on the sly.

After Uncle Corbett had long passed, and the farm was sold, Aunt Eva was nearing her end with congestive heart failure. One evening Virgil sat with her in her small Quincy apartment, she age 90, and he expressed sincerely, “Aunt Eva, I want you to know that you and Uncle Corbett where like second parents to we four boy’s. I appreciate all you did for my brothers and me over the years. I love you my dearest aunt, want you to know you and Uncle Corbett were wonderful guardians for us when Mama was sick and daddy along with us were in need. Understand that Uncle Corbett was truly a special man to us boys and we loved and adored him.”

 

FROM PLATFORM TO TRAIN CAR

 

Virgil shouldered his duffle bag and approached the step-up to enter his assigned car. He paused briefly to gaze down the long depot platform, visualizing he and Doug led by Mama to their train headed for Quincy, Florida. Briefly, he experienced anew two boys’ apprehension mixed with excitement. The scene and moment of separation from their beloved mother seemed like yesterday. He entered the thinly occupied dark car and settled in his seat next to a window. Leaning his head against the window, as the train started to chug forward and the whistle blew its departure, he knew soon the rhythmic track would induce sleep.

 

FURTHER FLASHBACK’S

 

In addition to Virgil and Doug staying with Aunt Eva and Uncle Corbett, brothers Alfred and Clifford lived with them years later. Eventually, they shared their Aunt Eva and Uncle Corbett stories … two of them Virgil recalled explicitly.

Story one – Clifford at 10 years of age, got out of bed early one morning to go to the corncrib to shuck corn for hog feed. Before beginning his chore prior to sunrise, he went into the store and got himself a pack of Bull of the Woods chewing tobacco.

He bit off a plug, and commenced to chew as he did his chore. Task finished, he headed straight to the house. Entering, and chewing, Aunt Eva in her night robe, slippers, and arms crossed, intercepted him just inside the door. “Clifford, what were you doing?”

“My chore, shucking corn, Aunt Eva.”

“Really. Did you enter the store earlier?”

“Yes, mama. I got myself some tobacco.”

“You should have asked me first. Regardless, you know I wouldn’t allow you to chew tobacco; it’s despicable even for an adult.” Agitated, she tapped one foot, then bent looking him keenly in the eye, and added intently, “So, swallow what’s in your mouth.”

Clifford’s eyes widened. His mouth gapped so the slimy tobacco plug almost fell out. He started to protest, but Aunt Eva’s piercing eyes prevented any inflammatory rebuttal. He swallowed the plug and almost gagged. The remainder of the day was the sickest ever in his short life … a lesson learned for which he lost his appeal for chewing tobacco.

Story two – Alfred and Clifford accompanied a local man Daryl-Lee with a speech impediment to do a field task. Charitably, Uncle Corbett hired him to do odds and ends around his farm, he punctual and a good worker.

One particular day he was instructed to take the mule and cart out to gather corn from the field to husk for hog feed.

Alfred and Clifford straightaway asked, “Aunt Eva, can we ride out in the cart with Daryl-Lee?”

She answered, “Yes, but you must stay out of trouble; be good boys.”

While the young boys remained seated on the mule-drawn cart, Daryl-Lee gathered the corn. As he worked, occasionally bringing an armload to toss in the cart rear, the mule during one interim raised his tail and plopped a number two on the ground, which instantly drew a large horse fly. The large bug buzzed in circles above the fresh heap then up and around the animals’ smelly rump, which thoroughly agitated Clifford. He grabbed the getty-up-whip and swung it with a snap, the tip striking the mule’s hindquarters with a stinging smack. The mule screamed loudly, “hee-haw!” Then he tore across the cornfield devastating a large swath. Hanging on for their lives, the boys clutched tightly together until the demented beast halted at the wire fence marking the property boundary. All the while terrified Daryl-Lee chased the cart, flailing his arms, sometimes stumbling on downed cornstalks, yelling all sorts of unintelligible expletives. Uncle Corbett made no issue of the incident to apologetic and distressed Daryl-Lee, reassuring him his job wasn’t in jeopardy. On the contrary, Clifford was lectured how and when not to use a cart whip.

Probably … sometime later in privacy, Uncle Corbett had the chuckle of his life.

 

*  *  *

 

Before Virgil dozed off in the train car heading south, he coveted one of his recollections, his and Doug’s watermelon feast near the peanut patch that delighted him so he allowed his free-wheeling imagination further freedom. As sure as visualizing the train rising skyward from the tracks to soar gracefully in semicircles on wind currents, then glide downward to gently scale the tracks southward, he envisioned Doug older, barefoot, and in overalls in the watermelon patch eating a melon. He himself had taken the form of an observing scarecrow, watching Uncle Corbett’s hound Bubba sitting several feet away eating from his own watermelon, boy and dog spitting seeds back and forth between them. Awe! He murmured dreamily, “As artist for an insurance company on military leave, I will store that image, because I am certain one day I might be asked to draw and paint a country scene of similar character. I will reproduce my imaginary scene exactly as I dreamt it tonight, and title it, ‘Watermelon Seed-Spitting Contest’.”

 

*  *  *

 

And Virgil did just that this day in December 2017.

 

THE END


Submitted: December 29, 2017

© Copyright 2021 Virgil Dube. All rights reserved.

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