Country at Heart

Watermelon Thumpin'

Country at HeartOne day while purchasing watermelons, I saw a man land a good, hard thump on one — first time I’ve seen anyone do that other than us back-wood, country folks. When I impulsively thumped one, I asked myself, "What in the world are you doing?" My honest answer was, "I have no idea."

As I glanced at the stranger thumpin’ that melon, I also wondered if he knew why he thumped it. He probably didn't, because these days most watermelon buyers are clueless as to why they thump 'em. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that watermelon thumpin’ is akin to belonging to a secret society. It's a sign that the "thumpers" know something that "non-thumpers" don't — which they probably don't, but their ego makes them think they do.

I have no idea when watermelon thumpin' started, but I do know that I saw it way back when I was a kid. I saw my dad and other farmers thump them in their patches. A thumped watermelon supposedly emits a certain sound and a certain feel to the finger. By the thump, you can determine if a melon is ripe, ready to pull, and ready to eat. Do you really believe that? Well, I don't ... not really. Those old, experienced, country farmers may know what they're doing, but I have no idea. Over the years, I simply picked up the habit.

When people thump 'em in the store, they're listening for that certain sound that they think indicates the melon is a prize pick. Since I don’t know what the “sound “ sounds like and what the “feel” feels like, instead of thumpin’ ‘em, I do several things.

First, I look the watermelon over real good. I do know this much: if a watermelon has a dark, yellowish-brown coloration on one side, it means that it laid in the field for a good little spell ... perhaps too long. If it did, it could be overripe, or in some extreme cases, just right for eating. It all depends. Actually, that one is the kind I prefer over the dark green ones. To me, those are not ripe enough to be deliciously good and sweet. Perhaps it's just tradition, but I do like to see a little yellow on the ones I buy.

Next, I simply press the watermelon on all sides. If there is a soft spot, even on a dark green one, it usually means that the melon was dropped and bruised. It can be eaten, but not that part.

Finally, if I thump the fruit, it's simply out of habit and because it is something that I want to do. I have no earthly idea what I'm looking for. So, inexperienced me, I just look at a melon and decide if it's the one I want to buy, though I will seldom buy a melon that is all green. To me, they are not as ripe, nor are they as sweet as the ones with the light yellow patch on 'em. The patch indicates that at least it did mostly ripen on the vine. The solid green ones may indicate that they didn't stay in the field long enough. I pass on those.

I'm a country girl and should have my "thump" down pat, but I don't, so if you ever see me thumping a watermelon, just know that I haven’t the foggiest idea what I'm doing. Tell me to buy the watermelon, take it home, and give it a try. If that one is a dud, maybe with the next one I'll hit the jackpot.

Photo by Fotolia/rozakov

Banana Puddin' Sundays

Country at HeartI never dreamed I would see the day when I could eat cake and pie and ice cream and cookies and banana pudding everyday... if I want to; however, to me, eating sweets on a regular basis takes the "special" out of them. During those economically poor years of my childhood, whenever we ate sweets, they were indeed special. And because of our infrequent eating of sweet stuff, I didn't have to worry about getting too much cavity and obesity causing sugar in my system. The fact that we didn't have money for desserts everyday took care of that. Cakes and other "sweet tooth" goodies were few and far between, but on Sundays, Dad went out of his way to reward us with an extra special treat to top off our week.

It was a tradition in poor families to eat their sweets on church day... Well, at least it was with ours. And of all the sweets in the world, banana pudding was a regular with us. I doubt that a weekend passed when we didn't have this much-loved and much-looked-forward-to, beyond-delicious, mouth-watering dessert. Since it wasn't a habit to eat sweets during the week, Sunday afforded us the opportunity to share the sweetness of the day, as well as the sweetness of a sugar-laden dessert.

Mother was the cook, but on Sundays Dad always whipped up his favorite "Christmas pudding" of the week. Back in the day, a banana pudding was a BANANA PUDDIN'. Without boasting, I think I can honestly say that Dad made the best 'Nana pudding in the whole wide world. It was so good that even my taste buds said, "Right-On." Perhaps the country eggs and fresh cow butter gave it that extra kick but, be that as it may, I still say that Dad was the genius behind the pudding. So, as you might guess, not only did I look forward to church on Sundays, but I also looked forward to dinner after church.

Most country folks didn't eat boxed cake mix or other store-bought desserts. At least, we didn't. We made ours from scratch. The flavoring, flour and sugar were store bought. But for his Sunday Special, Dad did use the creamy, evaporated, pet milk. It is richer, thicker, tastier, and a little more suitable for the wafers than the lighter-textured cow milk. The brown, hen-hatched, country eggs and the real (organic) cow butter made that pudding, umm, umm, lip-smacking good.

The ingredients (eggs, milk, butter, flavor, and sugar) were mixed by hand. The eggs were beaten with the biggest spoon in the kitchen, which takes an extra labor of love. Otherwise, it is a hard, tedious, boring job, but Dad did that part too. After those initial preparations, he took those tasty vanilla wafers and almost-too-ripe banana slices and placed them alternatively on top of each other until they were all gone. Today, there are tons of "knock-offs," but back then, I only remember Nabisco wafers, which, in my opinion, still make the best banana pudding.

The filling is cooked on top of the stove and stirred continually so it doesn't stick or burn. When the mixture was well done, but not too thick, Dad slowly poured that hot concoction over those little, round, brown, sweet, crunchy wafers and overly-ripe bananas. The creamy liquid oozed slowly between the wafers and bananas like white, hot lava flowing over mountains, interspersed with valleys.

Like spectators at some big-time sporting event, we sat there watching Dad while drooling over that pudding, more than anxious to chow down, but we had to hold our horses. Dad was never in a hurry, and even at this point, the "Prize" pudding of the week was not ready yet. The stove was blasting, even in summertime, when Dad very carefully took that long, rectangular pan and slowly slid it into that toasty, hot oven. We licked our lips... top and bottom, knowing it wouldn't be long before our growling stomach would be gobbling down Dad's version of what a Southern, down-home, from-scratch, made-with-love, banana pudding should taste like.

Now, a 'Nana Puddin' eaten at room temperature is okay, but not the tastiest. One straight from the oven is the best dessert on the planet. Okay, I'll admit that you do have to let it cool for a spell... but not for long. While the puddin' simmered in the stove, the ingredients wrapped their arms around each other like best friends and settled in together, making the pudding indescribably good. If you've never eaten a pudding like that, you haven't eaten a real "'Nana" pudding. And you have no idea what you've missed.

Unfortunately, I have never been able to come anywhere near Dad's, old-fashioned Nana pudding. But even still, I can taste its goodness and for that my heart and stomach say, "Thanks, Dad, for making my Sundays extra special and deliciously sweet."

Banana Pudding
Photo by Getty Images/KVLADIMRV

Why Country People Talk So Loud

Country at Heart 

This title may have an obvious answer, but I want to break it down a little further, based on my experience growing up in the country. When you live in the country, I'm talking "big country" where the sky is the limit, with lots of open space and a landscape that appears to have no end, your world is bigger than life itself. We grew up talking as though we wanted the people in the next town to hear us. For instance. if you are in the front yard and want someone to bring you the rake that you left in the backyard, you have to knock it up a few octaves in order for them to hear you.

If your neighbor is halfway back home before you realize you forgot to tell her something, you run behind her. When you think you're within hearing distance, you let out a holler. If she can't hear you, then you know you have to close the gap a little more. In the city, it's considered rude to holler. In the country, it's not. Raising our voice is just the normal way country folks communicate with each other or their stubborn, hard-headed animals that act as though they are deaf. In rural areas, unless you are within a few feet of someone, while they may can hear you, they can't decipher what you are saying. So, it's OK to up your already high-pitched voice tone a little bit higher.

We never had livestock, but we could hear our neighbors hollering for their cows and horses if they were way down in the pasture somewhere. If that’s where they are, a normal voice range won’t do. Sometimes, though, even the loudest holler doesn't work. If you really want your four-legged beasts and they are not within hollering distance, you have to go on a wild-goose chase before belting out another holler.

The Milk Maid is smart. She got tired of hollering every day. When it's milking time and if her heifer hasn’t found her way back to the barn on her own, she wanders through the woods looking for her cow with the heavy udder, hoping to hear the jingling bell that she tied, with a lock, around the cow's neck. That way, she doesn't have to raise her voice, even the slightest bit.

Most country people feel as though they “own” the space around them, even if that space is 5 miles away. Living in the wide, open area called "country" gives them a sense of freedom and ownership of their immediate and not-so-immediate surroundings. If we talk or scream to the top of our voices, that is OK, as long as we aren't exploding in somebody's ear. Whenever we want to, we holler. Not just when we’re at a ball game but anytime we feel like it. That’s our way of speaking to whatever is in our world, no matter how far away the whatever is.

Kids love exercising their throat muscles — not at anybody or anything in particular, but just because they can. Hollering is a game and sport to them. The same was true with us. When we weren't someplace where we had to be quiet, we threw caution to the wind. Like someone yelling through a bull-horn, we took our liberty in hearing how loudly we could talk. 

Our house was about a quarter of a mile from the school house. Before I was old enough to attend, I would sit on our front porch. During recess, I would hear the students playing and hollering at each other, especially while playing ball. Though I couldn't distinguish their words, I could hear their muffled voices.

Another fun thing to do was stand near the road, face the school house, take in a deep breath and holler as loudly as we could. Since the building was empty, her booming echo came hollering back at us, word-for-word what we had just yelled at her.

Hollering is very much a part of rural peoples' lives. We do it every day and don't think a thing in the world about it. It's our way of attempting to communicate effectively. For the most part, in wide open spaces that appear never to end you have to lift your voice to the heavens in order to be heard and understood clearly and precisely. And to this day, I'm not sure I have gotten all of the "country" holler out of me. I still have an extraordinarily loud voice and constantly have to practice speaking lowly and softly.

I guess it's true that you can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl.

Photo by Getty Images/Imgorthand


Country at HeartI don’t understand how it comes into being, but I just love when, all of a sudden, I look across the horizon and there it is. Red and blue and yellow and green…and whatever other colors. I had a million chances to snap a pic, but then, I don't think I had ever seen a camera. But the neat thing about rainbows is that, from time-to-time, they reoccur, gracing the skies with their heartwarming appearance.

Folklore has some tales about rainbows. The most popular one, and you’ve probably heard it, too, is that there is a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. Now, I know that is not true by any stretch of anybody's imagination. Still, as a child, I wanted to find out. Being an inquisitive little girl, I also wanted to know where on the earth the rainbow started and where it ended. I imagined it stretching from the East Coast to somewhere in the Midwest. I didn't think it went all the way to California, but perhaps it did, though I doubt it.

There is another widely-circulated tale about chasing a rainbow, perhaps to find the pot of gold, before that mass of colors disappears. I had better sense than to run across the field trying to reach those indescribably beautiful colors. In my mind I chased it, but in reality I knew it was too far away to get to before it evaporated into thin air. So my second best was to stare at that colorful, semi-circle way up in the sky until I could no longer see any trace of those dazzling, kaleidoscope colors.

Here's what I always wondered about rainbows. After a storm, a shower, a drizzle, or even the slightest precipitation from the sky, those magical entities strode to center stage and decorated the heavens — aflame in the most vivid colors imaginable. No doubt scientists can explain everything you want to know about rainbows, plus some, but I can't. As a Christian family, we believed God flung that mist into the sky, then took His paint brush and added the most vibrant colors He could find. He knew I like bright, bold colors, and he also knew I would love staring at his brief artwork beaming across that wide expanse.

Perhaps it’s just my imagination, but the rainbows of my childhood (and I saw plenty) seem far more dazzling than those that I see today. They even appeared closer, more real, and projected a more human-like persona, if that makes sense. Maybe because there weren’t skyscrapers and other building to get in their way, they seemed closer, felt more personal and much more a part of the landscape than rainbows today. 

Its sudden, mysterious appearance touched my heart so deeply. When it showed up, it almost always caught me off guard, but when I first caught a glimpse of it, I’d stop dead in my tracks and stare as long as it lingered in my corner of the sky. Then again, I may be too sentimental about the things in nature where I lived and grew up. Be that as it may. City rainbows are OK, even though I rarely see them. But I still prefer my country rainbows. I guess the memories make them more special than the city rainbows.

To me, a rainbow looks like a half-circle, curtain hanging of its own accord. In keeping with the thought of chasing rainbows, whenever I saw one, that's exactly what I wanted to do — run across the field and glide my little bony fingers up and down that thick concentration of vibrantly living colors. Most of all, I wish I had some kind of magical power that would make that arch stay right where it was, so the next day when I looked up toward the sky, it would still be there, its colors glowing as boldly as they were the day before. My Rainbow!

Photo by Getty Images/melki76

The Long Walk to Church: Part 2

Country at HeartFragrant wildflowers bloomed along the roadside and down into the ditches. Their deliciously sweet aromas drifted by and caressed our noses as they faded into thin air. But we didn't have time to stop and pick ‘em, and we didn't have time to smell the roses, either. I waved at the beautiful monarch butterflies as they flitted from bush to bush. Then I swatted at the bumble bees as they buzzed dizzily through the hot, humid air, kissing flowers and spreading their sweet nectar from one blossom to another. As we gazed across the vast landscape, the soft, green grass looked so inviting. I wanted so badly to go and wallow on it for a while, but since we were wearing our Sunday best, we couldn't do that. Plus, we didn’t have time to go “fielding” that day.
Little birdy-birds chirped from high up in treetops, their spindly, crow-like feet perched precariously on thin, leafy branches blown by summer’s gentle breeze. Cows meandered through thick, grassy pastures or relaxed under the biggest shade tree they could find; shielding themselves from the sweltering hot sun, their long tails swishing from side-to-side swatting bothersome flies as they chewed their cuds over and over and over again. Unlike us, they didn’t have to go to church, so they could kick back under their favorite tree for as long as they wanted. They were so laid-back that they didn’t even seem bothered by those leechy black birds bumming a ride on their hairy backs. Since they were content with those freeloaders, we didn’t try to shoo 'em away. I was too scared to go into the pasture anyway, so we just kept right on trucking.
When we walked a mile or two on a clear, cloudless day, the sun was shining so strongly that even the dirt was uncomfortably hot. If it is a real Southern summer day, it is hot and humid, so at the midway point we rested under a sprawling shade tree, but we couldn’t linger too long. When we got to the end of that second lane, it dead-ended into an enclosed pasture. Then we turned right onto "Sleepy Hollow" — the most peaceful stretch I have ever trod. At that point, the hot, sandy road gave way to a much cooler carpet underneath our feet. With so many overhanging branches, that path looked like a mile-long canopy of arms stretched out over our sweaty heads. Those giant trees reached across that narrow, dusty road and shook hands with each other. As they did, the sun faded into the background and that shady stretch became a very pleasant walk on a too-hot day.
We finally breathed a sigh of relief and enjoyed the scenery on that last mile before we got to church. If we walked the entire distance barefooted and carried our shoes and socks, we stopped up the road from the church and finished getting dressed. Then, beaming like bright sunflowers, we walked into the sanctuary in clean white socks and shiny, black patent-leather "Sunday-go-to-meeting" church shoes on ... just like the girls who rode to church in their family's old, run-down "limousine.”

cows in field
Photo by Getty Images/R-J-Seymour

The Long Walk to Church: Part 1

Country at HeartWe lived about 3 miles from our church and loved going there, especially on "big" event Sundays. My father went to church in the “old country" near Emmett, where he grew up. We always had a car, but sometimes, if there was a "big” day at both dad's church and ours, he needed the car more than we did. So, if we wanted to go to church, we had to walk.

There was Sunday school every Sunday, and on first Sundays there was a morning service. On special Sundays, we had dinner on the ground between the morning and the afternoon services. However, we didn’t take those long walks to church because we were starving for a delicious meal. We were simply church-going folks whether or not food was served. 

I can't say how many times we walked to church, because similar experiences seem to fade into one. I do remember, though, that we did, on occasion, have to walk to church. For us country folks, walking is no big deal. It is just as natural to us as water is to a fish. When you live in the country, you walk all the time even if you aren’t wearing comfortable tennis shoes, toting an umbrella or wearing hats to shield your head from the simmering hot sun. So, if we wanted to go to church and the car wasn’t available, we simply got dressed and hit the road.

Though we were poor country folks, we were well-dressed and wanted to be as fresh as daisies when we strolled into church. So on each walking-to-church Sunday, we left the house as early as possible so we didn't have to rush. If we walked too fast, we would be drenched with sweat by the time we got there. While we could somewhat take our time or even rest under a welcoming shade tree at about the midway point, still we had to pace ourselves so we would have enough time to get to church before the first service started. However, regardless to how early we left home walking, because of the distance, getting there in time for Sunday school was out of the question.

When we left home, we headed west, walking at a steady pace and taking in whatever scenery there was to take in. There weren’t many houses along our route, but at whatever was there to gaze at, other than those ubiquitous Arkansas pines, we took a long, hard look. With walking being such a slow pace, our looking time was longer than if we had been riding in a car, where everything goes by quickly.

After about a mile, we turned left at MrTom Rainer's house and then traveled south for another mile down a lane that had plum orchards and black berry patches galore but not a single house. Walking on country roads is nothing like walking on smooth, even, city sidewalks. Those rocky, unpaved trails are about as rough and as dusty as they can be. That was especially true of that particular stretch. It was the sandiest road I’d ever walked on, almost like walking on a beach. Such terrain is not conducive for fast walking. Even if you aren’t wearing dressy shoes, walking on soft, shifting sand slows you down considerably. The dirt is loose, like finely-sifted flour, and your feet sink down into it without any effort. Thus, it takes longer to traverse than when walking on compressed dirt.

country road
Photo by Adobe Stock/johnsroad7

Pickin' Clover

Country at HeartAs a curious little girl, I always had my ears open to interesting and almost unbelievable tales, and my hands were always anxious to test those way-out stories that I had heard.  And with that, I'll tell you about my experience in the clover field.

Folklore is that if you find a four-leaf clover it will bring you good luck, and, of course, I was always looking for something that would make my days out in the countryside a little bit better. So, one day I decided to find a four-leaf clover and see what good fortune it would bring me.

I didn't have to go far to start my search because there was a field between the pine forest and our yard. I don’t think clovers are considered flowers, and I don’t think they bloom, but they easily sprout up among flowers and other vines that bloom. So, when no one was around, I ventured into that patch. I'm not sure why I didn't want anyone to see me during my desperate search, but I remember that I didn't ask anyone to go clover huntin' with me.

When I got to my destination, I got down on my knees. Then I slowly and methodically started spreading the grasses and weeds and turning the leaves of the clover "flowers," carefully plucking them up one by one and taking a good look at each. I searched and searched and searched for about half a day without seeing one clover with four leaflets.

Finally, I got tired of turning grass and clover leaflets and began to think that, perhaps, clovers only have three prongs after all, and whoever told me about the four-pronged ones was lying to see if I was naive enough to go looking for a four-leafed one.  About that time, not only had I concluded that I was wasting my time, but I started feeling quite foolish looking for something that maybe didn't even exist.

Eventually, after a rather lengthy and exhausting search trying to find my “good-luck charm,” I finally gave up; packed up my bags, so to speak, and trudged back home, concluding that if clovers have four leaves, they would luckily grow in some other girl's yard and not in mine. You know what they call “freaks of nature?” Well, at that time, I thought a four-leaf clover was one until I saw one online. At this point, I may never see one in person, at least not by my hands plucking one from some field somewhere.

Anyway, it is a fact that four-leaf clovers exist, but they are rare. And to this day I have not seen one of those “lucky” clovers, partially because since I left the country I've never had the opportunity, nor the inclination, to go huntin’ long and hard enough for one. And by the way, I never told anyone about my clover search, mainly because I didn't want to be laughed at for looking for something that I wasn't sure exists.

Photo by Adobe Stock/knelson20

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