The homegrown harvest was a happy accident.

By Betsy Cribb
June 18, 2019
Kari Cribb

For my family, summertime in South Carolina meant shaking off routine like sand from a towel. My mom, who typically insisted my sisters and I wear hairbows and lacy socks, put a pause on the smocked sweetness for June, July, and most of August, favoring bare feet and salt-licked hair instead. Once the suffocating humidity settled in, she also let our manners slide into a sleepier observance of our schoolyear propriety (save for "ma'am" and "sir;" those were non-negotiables year-round). It was this heat-induced lapse in her usual insistence on good manners, I guess, that made our nightly backyard watermelon seed-spitting contests possible.

For little girls taught to keep napkins in our laps and elbows off the table ("You'll crush the table fairies!"), sitting cross-legged on the picnic table and smacking watermelon from The Pig felt like we were getting away with something. We reveled in the juice rolling down our cheeks and gleefully licked it from the corners of our little mouths. No one tried to wipe our faces. It was sticky, fruity freedom. And when we came across the hard, black seeds, there was no dainty disposing of them in a napkin or paper towel. Instead, we'd stand up, curl our tongues around the seeds (a trick our older cousins taught us), and launch them with all our might into the yard, sputtering small pieces of red melon along with the tiny black missiles.

Our seed-spitting contests were fun and irreverent, and one less thing for our parents to clean up. We'd go inside to take our baths and wash our faces, and the watermelon mess would stay outside, sure to wash away in the following afternoon's thunderstorm.

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But when the next summer arrived, with its promises of beach days and freckled noses, a watermelon vine did too. It sprouted right there in our backyard, just off the patio, where we'd spent so many evenings munching melon and spitting seeds. A timid green shoot bloomed into a rollicking vine that spilled across the backyard, nearly taking it over. And then came the watermelons—green-hulled giants with bright red fruit and lots of seeds. They were as big as we were, some of them, and sweeter. We didn't buy a single watermelon that summer, and any time someone came by the house, we'd send them home with one too.

There were plenty of seed-spitting contests that year, but for whatever reason, none of them stuck. Our volunteer vine didn't return the next summer, nor the summer after. But we've kept on with our backyard seed-spitting contests anyway, because maybe, just maybe, next summer will be the summer that our surprise watermelon vine comes back.