The Rear End

THE REAR END: Salt on Watermelon

and all manner of late night treats

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Eva Paulus |

The sky was black and crickets were droning on in the grass just outside the open windows. Grandma and Grandpa didn’t have air conditioning back then, and humid summer air pushed in through the screens.

We all sat around the kitchen table, the grandkids and Grandpa. He had a big watermelon sitting in front of him like he was going to eat the whole thing. But he took out a huge knife and sliced off a piece for each of us. Big pieces. We each got our own plate.

Before we ate, Grandpa issued a dire warning. “Don’t swallow the seeds,” he said, so casual, as he sawed through the bright green rind. “Or a watermelon will grow in your stomach.”

Grandma was at the sink washing dishes. On some nights she’d hum “Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison and dance a little — just a little — as she moved across the shiny linoleum. The room was bright and clean. My grandparents had owned and operated a series of little restaurants in northwestern Wisconsin, but that was ancient history by the time I showed up.

Before we ate, Grandpa issued a dire warning. “Don’t swallow the seeds,” he said, so casual, as he sawed through the bright green rind. “Or a watermelon will grow in your stomach.”

He didn’t even look up as he said this.

We all laughed, but I looked to my older sister and my cousin across the table. I asked if this was true. They all agreed. This was very true.

But I knew watermelons grew on vines. So at the very least, a leafy stalk would just sprout up from your stomach and come out your mouth, and the watermelon would grow on the outside. That wasn’t so bad.

And hey, free watermelon.

Grandma moved past the table and set down the salt shaker. Grandpa didn’t even ask her for it. She just knew.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

“Haven’t you had salt on your watermelon?” my cousin asked right back. “It’s good.”

She grabbed the shaker and sprinkled a little onto her slice. Grandpa did the same. I stared at the salt, wondering what I should do.

My watermelon was plump and red and perfect, and my plate was slowly filling up with juice. Grandma shut off the faucet and leaned against the counter as she dried her hands. The pine trees rooted in the backyard swayed in the shadowy breeze as the insects buzzed and buzzed and buzzed.

Grandpa held up the shaker and asked, “You want some?”

I did. So Grandpa salted my watermelon. And it was pretty good.

I picked up the melon and leaned forward as juice splashed down onto the plate. I sank my teeth into it. The salt and the sugar hit my tongue like someone shaking me awake from a groggy sleep. I’d eaten a lot of watermelon in my young life. But this was something else.

We all had another slice. Maybe another one after that. Grandpa teased us as we wiped up our sticky chins with paper napkins. Grandma took away our dishes.

I leaned my forehead against the car window in the backseat as we drove back to our cabin, past farm fields and old houses. We raced from the car, past the little birch tree, and through the front door because the mosquitos were so bad.

Tomorrow morning I’d be up early, fishing with my dad, out in the sun, swatting at the flies. Later we’d probably go swimming at the lake and maybe set off some fireworks. My sister and I would bicker. I’d eat too many cookies. My mom would cover my eyes and spray my head with bug repellant. We’d fall asleep that night sunburnt with a fan in the window.

I’d dream about September.