There are few memories of my first trip to Birmingham, Alabama: Joking uncles, watching Spike Lee movies until sunrise with our cousins and eating sugary cantaloupe. The morning we left Birmingham, it was sweltering hot. My uncle joked about the sweat on my nose being a sign of evil. Being too young and believing every comment, I wiped the sweat off. As the final suitcase was packed into the back of Dad’s truck, our Great Aunt handed us a large container of sliced cantaloupe to enjoy on the long drive back to Virginia. My sister and I were overjoyed about eating more cantaloupe. A few hours later, Mom unsealed the container of cantaloupe slices. The first bite was a salty surprise. We’ve never had cantaloupe with salt, and we didn’t like it. Well, Mom and Dad thought the better of the situation, because it was more for them. My sister and I watched our parents gorge on our sweet cantaloupe ruined with salt.
My sister and I watched Dad turn and fertilize the soil of his garden. Plant seedling plants for the tomatoes, string beans, black-eyed peas, squash, zucchini, and cantaloupe. We mostly watched the cantaloupe grow into long vines. Among the leaves, small buds gradually grew to burst into yellow blossoms. Then the beginning of the cantaloupe would appear. When it was at full size, my sister and I started a non-verbal game of who can get to the melon first. Picking a melon too early resulted in a bland taste, but if it stayed too long on the vine, it would rot on the ground. A melon is ready when the bottom has an overripe, sweet smell. My sister had the advantage of watching the melons, because her bedroom window over looked the garden. Often, I would come home to find her finishing a whole melon. When I found a just ripe melon, I would eat it in less than 20 minutes. One year, Dad complained he never ate a melon from the garden, because my sister and I found them first.