Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hot Summer Evenings in Charlotte

By Obie Oakley

With all the hot weather we have had this summer, I am reminded of some very special evenings I spent growing up in the late forties.

We lived in Chantilly which is bordered by Commonwealth Ave., Briar Creek, the Seaboard Railroad Tracks and Pecan Avenue. This was a mostly blue color neighborhood where we all knew our neighbors and enjoyed doing things together. A couple of special evenings I remember in particular had to do with watermelons and ice cream. (The chapter on ice cream to follow later).

Do you remember the watermelon lots over on McDowell Street between the Alexander Hotel and Sweet Daddy Grace’s Church? The sellers would have straw spread on the ground and the watermelons were lined up according to size, shape and color. We always preferred the stripped ones over the solid dark green ones. There would be lights strung, much like today’s Christmas tree lots, and along the back would be soft drink boxes where they would ice down the melons should you want a cold one. (A cold one had a different meaning back then)!

Word would spread that there was going to be a neighborhood gathering to eat watermelons and in the late afternoon, us kids, barefooted of course, would pile in the back of Frank Farrell’s old Chevrolet pick up truck and head out to get the right one(s) for the evening. We would spread out trying to help select the ones that were just right. Of course we would have to “thump” each one to make sure it was ripe. I guess I knew what I was doing because I still thump melons.

The adult would pay for our trophies, which probably cost in the 25 cents range and we would head back to the neighborhood where we would make a grand entry much like Caesar entering triumphantly into Rome.

When we got back folks would have make-shift tables set up made of boards running along saw horses where the watermelons would be sliced and laid out for the taking. I remember also that different folks had preferences as to the best way to slice a watermelon. Some sliced them lengthwise and then into chunks while others sliced them across the girth which left rinds looking life half-moons once eaten. There would also be knives and forks, paper towels and the thing I cannot eat a watermelon without….salt.

Eating a watermelon also involved personal preference. Some would slice away the row of seeds leaving only the fruit. Some used only a knife while others also liked to have a fork. Kids did it the “old fashion” way, eschewing utensils altogether.
Some teenager would inevitably organize (?) a watermelon seed spitting contest much to the delight of everyone.

At a time when there was no air conditioning, no television and money was always tight, I can think of no more special way to spend an evening. On the other hand now that we have air conditioning, television and some discretionary coins, I still can think of no more special way to spend an evening
-Obie Oakley
 (photo at top of Obie and Fluff, circa 1948)

Thanks Obie!  I hope others will send in some of their memories of the times we all shared growing up in Charlotte. -Ed