A Memory of Summer
The hot and sweaty days of July and August bring back memories of childhood summers.
My family would meet in the basement-kitchen: an ugly room with a low ceiling, which I hated and my mother loved because it reminded her of home. To be fair, the room was cool, a welcome relief when coming in from the scorching heat.
The water-filled sink was cooling a water melon, selected carefully by tapping on the rind and listening for the clear sound of ripeness. “Never take the one with the hollow sound. That won’t be sweet,” Mum always said.
Dad, clad in those ridiculously short shorts of the Seventies and a shirt thrown on for decency’s sake—Grandma didn’t like to see him bare-chested–took the melon out of the sink, dried it and put it on the table. Mum, with a bit of soil still sticking to her clothes because she had just come in from the garden, was already waiting with the biggest knife we had.
Ever so carefully, she stabbed the melon. Everybody was listening with bated breath. There! With hardly any pressure, the ripe fruit cracked under the knife and opened almost voluntarily.
“Oh, this one is perfect,” Grandma would say with a joyful smile on her face which, as always, was half-hidden under a huge, black kerchief. She never took that off during the day, not even on the hottest of summer days. This black kerchief, tied in a special way around her head, and her black widows’ garments formed part of her identity. She would not have been herself dressed in modern clothes. Unthinkable!
Mum, in the meantime, had cut the fruit up into symmetrical slices.
“Lubenica!” she would proclaim. She never used the term “water melon”. This was Lubenica, a reminder of her old home in Croatia. As was the kitchen.
Everybody took a slice, and we tasted almost simultaneously. Hmmm! This one really was perfect. It was sweet, and juicy, but still firm. The multitude of brown, glistening seeds were firmly embedded into the red flesh; there was no mushiness that would have meant that the fruit was over-ripe. Mum, Dad and Grandma would cut little pieces out of their slice, remove the seeds and then eat it. I would just bite off a chunk and spit the seeds onto the plate. We could easily eat a medium-sized melon in one go. Having sticky fingers and faces was part of the fun.