Even though I'm now officially a senior citizen--I'm 66, full Social Security age--I try to avoid being one of those old farts who talks incessantly about how much better things were "in my day." However, two things happened today that force me to do so.
I just returned from the supermarket--a Meijer's, a major Midwestern chain not unlike Walmart. My wife had asked me to pick up several things, including a watermelon. I went to the produce section and there found a big cardboard bin topped with a sign: "Watermelon. $4.99." In smaller letters was the word "seedless." I looked into the box and there they were: a couple of dozen striped melons, all of about the same circumference and all, I have learned from experience, of the same passably sweet taste and with those little white would-be seeds that you can eat right along with the meat.
What ever happened to--dare I say it--real watermelons? I mean the dark green ones that came in an assortment of sizes, with big black seeds that you had to spit out as you ate and that, if you picked the right one, could have a sweetness that would make you want to cry. Or the long, light-green ones that could taste just as good?
I think back to my youth, when my brothers and sisters and I used to spend summers with my grandparents on their farm in East Texas. Grandpa always planted watermelons, not just because he and we liked to eat them but also so we children could sell some and make a little spending money. Every few days we would harvest a batch of melons, load them onto his trailer, hook it up to his little orange Allis-Chalmers tractor and drive down the country roads, selling melons to folks taking the evening air on their front porches. There was no one-price-fits-all. Prices might range from 50 cents for one of the small ones (about the size of what I paid $4.99 for today) to $2 for a great big one, family size.
What I remember most vividly about those melons was the way a good one would pop--thunk!--when you first punctured it with a knife, and how thin was the rind as compared with the rich, red, juicy meat. Now those were good watermelons! Do they exist still anywhere?
The other noteworthy thing today involved our neighbors' dog. He was sitting on their front lawn as I returned from the grocery, and he had that forlorn look that never seems to leave him. You see, the neighbors have one of those electronic fences and the dog has gotten used to the fact that he is going to get some sort of painful shock if he tries to leave the yard.
His appearance brought to mind a line from a favorite essayist of mine: "A dog without a broken spirit is no dog at all." Our neighbors have an honest-to-God real dog. His spirit is broken.
My wife and I were driving somewhere recently and a thought hit me: When was the last time I saw a dog chase a car? I can't remember when it was. Can it be that all dogs reside now behind electronic fences? Or has all the spunk been bred or trained out of them?
When I was a kid, you saw dogs chase cars all the time. We briefly had a dog that would bolt out of our front yard to chase vehicles on the highway that ran in front of our house. We had him briefly because he ran out one day and got himself run over by a truck.
There's a deep philosophical dilemma in this dog thing. Do you breed or train or shock all the spunk our of your dog, leaving him with a broken spirit, so that he'll live longer? Or do you leave him to live life free and unfettered, and risk that he'll meet the same end our old Spiegel did while chasing a truck? It's pretty clear which way the majority in our society have answered that question. When was the last time you saw a dog chase a car?