Another Lost Summer Love

Back in the summer of 1954, you got a lot of sweet-tasting love for 15 cents a slice.

Watermelon stands. They used to be everywhere once summer embedded its way into Houston for another four or five months, depending on the early or late availability of sizzler-breaking northers in the early or late fall, but we didn’t mind so much. We were old school Houstonians, the generation that grew up without home or car air conditioning and the everyday expectation that the opportunity to live sweat-free was guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

We didn’t mind it so much because we didn’t know any better, but also because we had some great reprieves from the everyday heat and humidity that otherwise dominated the three school-recess months of June, July, and August that we kids and teens viewed as summer. And the funny thing is – some of these things involved sweating – and we knew that going in.

I always thought of these things as items on my summer fun, run, and love list because they all had a lot to do with each. They were all fun; they each required us to either run or do them on the run; and they were all things we did in the name of, the taste of, or the pursuit of – what else? A thing called Love.

The list was endless, considerably shared by Houston teens, but still individualized, as well, and it often included such items as playing baseball or running over to Buff Stadium to catch a Buffs game; fighting off the mosquitoes on date trips to one of our numerous drive-in movie theatres to catch the latest sci fi or rock-n-roll rip-off flicks; cruising Prince’s, Stuart’s, and any of the many other drive-in coke and burger stores; swimming at one of our also many public pools; heading to the beach in Galveston; catching the roller coaster and carnival (win-a-stuffed-bear) games at Playland Park on South Main; doing the big time downtown movie scene of the Metropolitan, Loews State, or Majestic when you needed to impress a date; hitting the suburban movies when impressions weren’t all that important; going to the drive-in movies (as mentioned earlier) when you were more interested in date reactions over the need to make impressions; playing miniature golf; just driving around and burning up all that cheap gas that sometimes went on sale for eighteen cents a gallon during price wars; bagging groceries and throwing newspapers to float the money we needed for our mostly innocent acts of summer love; and maybe even catching some Friday night wrestling, bowling, or midget auto racing as a break from our usual fare.

James Arness played the green vegetable alien terror in the classic movie “The Thing.” The film became a regular feature at drive-in movies during the 1950s, where James Arness then exerted more influence on teen couples going steady than Elvis ever dreamed of having.

The last of these now mostly lost summer fun runs were the watermelon stands that used to pop up all over in June and stay with us through Labor Day. My particular favorite was one we had on that little corner in the East End where Griggs Road, Lawndale, and Evergreen all still come together.

The place came with a tent-like top and open sides that caught the Gulf breeze, when there was one, and the melon came ice cold and always sweet – and straight from the famous melon fields of Hempstead, Texas, Ample sitting room was available on wooden benches at redwood tables. And the melon came at you with pre-purchase sweetness sampling for ten to fifteen cents a slice. Just add a beautiful brunette girl friend with a soft voice, fiery brown eyes, and a certain haunting smile – and the melon tasted out of this world.

I still miss the old watermelon stand, but the memory lingers on in quiet compensation for the fact that some of the sweet things we find early in life don’t stay late, except as treasured memories that sometimes find a way to dance in our dreams of happily recalled once-upon-a-times.

For me, baseball has been the one early love of my life that I never had to give up or alter in some way due to changes in my own need for emotional growth. Once baseball and I found each other back in 1947, we never let go. Never had to. All other things have either grown, mutated, or gone away, but not so the game of baseball.

“It’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a case of do or die. The fundamental things apply, as times goes by.”

From then to now, the melon stand call of baseball is the same: – “PLAY BALL!”

And may you enjoy your own summer love recollections full tilt, without regret. Life’s too short for anything less than lessons, adjustments, and even happier, fuller celebrations of the human spirit.

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4 Responses to “Another Lost Summer Love”

  1. Marsha Says:

    Still another great article, Bill! I did not grow up in Houston, but childhood memories are similar. I didn’t become a baseball fan (“FANatic,” say my children) until the mid-70s, but I do remember the rivalry between the Yankees and the then Brooklyn Dodgers. I grew up in Western New York were both teams claimed fans. We sometimes listened to a game on the radio while we sat on the porch in the evening playing euchre or some other card game. Also, one of the families in our church was closely related to Warren Spahn, so there was local interest in him. Little did I know then that baseball would one day hold such interest for me.

  2. Jack Murphy Says:

    Bill, To this very day I remember that very same watermelon stand and the Hempsteads before they were Agri/ engineered into puny immitationsthat pass for Hempsteads today.
    I,m sure you did,nt mean to overlook the small but very important summertime neighborhood ice cream parlors ( Klien,s and Rettigs) I can also remember those Malts and Milkshakes that were lifesaving after mowing three yards back to back on a lazy 100 degree Houston afternoon. Enjoyed the memories! Thanks Jack

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Jack, all of those good times are only a memory-whisper away. Am I right?. They are too far back to ever repeat in the flesh, but they are far too precious to ever let go from the heart. – Yep, you bring up the sweet part too. Who among us could ever forget the ice cream parlors? – Have a great day! – Regards, Bill

  3. Wilford Terry Goeke Says:

    That watermelon stand at griggs, lawndale and evergreen was my dads. His name was Otto Goeke and we all worked there, mom, me and my brother. Also cousins and boys I went to school with worked there as well. Dad built the big ice box where we would ice down several hundred melons each night. Melons were much larger back then like the big black diamond, sugarloaf and others. Some times over 100 pounds. Hundreds of melons were stacked pyramid style on the sawdust floor and we never has to worry about theft. I guess those really were the good old days.

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