Melancholy

 “Pick up a sesame seed but lose sight of a watermelon.”

Chinese Proverb

Selwyn Road in Cleveland Heights was my childhood haven for the first nine years of my life.  That long street shaped like an upside-down J began down at the foot of Greyton Road, almost to Noble Road. Then it rose on a hill all the way up to Monticello Boulevard, which led to Forest Hills Park where I went sledding.

I lived in the middle of the block, and Selwyn was rife with playmates all up and down the street. We’d congregate on one porch or another on hot summer days. One time it might be a Swap Meet, when each of us would bring toys, puzzles, or games we were tired of. Then the negotiations began, when we’d try to convince the person who’d brought an item we coveted that it was worth what we had to trade. Was one Mr. Potato Head game minus an ear worth the same as a set of Pick Up Stix that was short one stick? The finesse of those deals brokered in the early Fifties could serve as excellent lessons in today’s economy.

Another time might be Card Trade Day, when we’d bring our collecting albums with slits on each page to hold playing cards. We’d place the remnants of various decks beside the albums. Then we’d go around the circle seeing if anyone had a card we were missing.If so, we’d strike up a trade.

Dress Up was a different activity. We each had our own personal stash of costumes, and we’d bring them over to someone’s porch and develop a story line. Then we’d garb ourselves for our chosen parts and begin acting. Sometimes it would be a contemporary theme, and other times it might be historical.

The roles for young girls in those days were rather limited. Laura, Heather, Pat, Jan, Susan, Gail, and I were usually housewives, secretaries, teachers, or mothers. If Douglas or Billy came to play, they got the interesting scenes as business executives, politicians, lawyers, or fathers. Once, Laura and I got daring and played George and Martha Washington. I was Martha and she was George. We felt so radical. Perhaps that was a harbinger of feminist uprising to come. I wonder if she burned her bra during that era?

Our mothers always provided snacks for the gang wherever we were. My Mom’s specialty was root beer floats, which she called Brown Cows after she plopped the vanilla ice cream into the fizzy brown liquid. They were a hit with my friends.

One hot lazy afternoon, some of us gals were encamped on Jan’s porch, one house down from the top of the block on the crest of the hill. Heather, Pat, and I had roller skated all the way up there, and we were tired. The four of us flopped on chairs reading comic books, just lounging around.

Jan’s mother brought out a big plate of watermelon slices for us. Happily we began stuffing our faces full of the cold, red, juicy refreshment. All of a sudden, I felt a black seed hit the back of my throat and drop downward.

“I just swallowed a seed,” I commented, having never done so before.

“You know a watermelon will grow from that seed, don’t you?” Jan immediately said. I heard a sharp intake of breath from the assembled crowd as all eyes swung over to gaze at my stomach. I looked down, too, as I felt my heart clutch in panic. Swiftly I denied Jan’s pronouncement.

She reiterated her statement, and upped her ante. Her cohorts backed it up.

“You’re going to have a watermelon in your belly,” added Heather. Then she began chuckling. Jan joined in and the two of them started laughing. Pat quietly adjusted her glasses and looked at the three of us analytically.

“Jan’s right,” she said wisely, “watermelons do grow from seeds.” I could see the sides of her mouth trying to join the others in their by-now hysterical laughter but also feel her conscience trying to guide her not to mock a friend in need. Loyalty trumped.

“How will you get it out?” she asked calmly, clearing her throat. The others abruptly stopped their laughter as we all considered the consequences of the quandary Pat had outlined. I desperately wanted to be home in my mother’s arms that very minute, but I also desperately wanted to put up a brave front for my friends and not let them scare me. I shrugged my shoulders, and put down my plate, swallowing my tears before they arose.

Soon someone must have changed the subject, as we ended the afternoon normally. That question was firmly lodged in the back of my brain, however, urging me ever onward toward home to consult with my mother on my predicament.

“Bye!” I waved gaily to Jan as we left her porch to roller skate down the hill.

“See ya!” I called to Heather and Pat as they cruised on by to their houses when I turned into mine.

Plopping on our front steps, I couldn’t get my skate key off my neck fast enough. The string got all tangled up in my braids, but finally I extricated it to unlock my skates from my saddle oxfords. In a flash, I pounded up our front steps and flew into the house.

“MOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!” I screamed, and began sobbing hysterically. My mother walked in from the kitchen, apron tied around her waist and wooden spoon raised in midair. She looked at me in consternation.

“There’s a watermelon growing in here,” I managed to blubber, pointing to my tummy.

“That can’t be,” Mom replied calmly.

“There is,” I insisted. “Jan told me so. I swallowed a seed. And Pat said watermelons do grow from seeds.”

Mom nodded her head.

“Your friends are right,” she agreed, “but plants need light to grow. It’s pretty dark inside you. There’s no way a watermelon could develop there.”

Since my mother had grown up on a farm, I figured she knew what she was talking about. I relaxed in her lap. Then she told me how the seed would find its way out.

“Oh,” I said, melancholy no longer.

I learned a lot on Selwyn Road, not the least of which was how to cultivate watermelons.

Copyright 2012 by Elaine F. Tankard

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