LARRY PENKAVA COLUMN: A watermelon to remember

Published 3:54 pm Tuesday, August 2, 2022

I think of Harvey every time I cut open a watermelon.

And no, there’s nothing sadistic about those thoughts. In fact, the memories make me smile.

Larry Penkava

I was a college student when I first went to work for the roofing company where he labored. Harvey was a family man, trying hard to scratch out a living for his wife and three kids.

He wasn’t the boss of our crew but he was the glue that held us together, his steady head and experienced hands proving to be role models to steer us in the right direction.

But that doesn’t mean Harvey was all business and no fun. Indeed, he loved to laugh and tell jokes during those times when a bit of levity was the cure for the drudgery of the roofing trade.

I had met Harvey at church, but it wasn’t until I joined the roofing crew that we formed a close bond. In fact, my first day on the job had me pitted with him while the other crew members were working elsewhere.

It was Harvey who Sam, our foreman, could depend on to send out on a job without having to supervise his every move. Just tell him what needed to be done and let him go, not worrying about the outcome.

That was the case one hot summer day in the late 1960s. Harvey was to take me with him to patch the roof of a textile mill somewhere in the Sandhills.

Yes, those Sandhills — whose claim to fame is perennially posting the hottest temperatures in the state of North Carolina.

We rode down south in the work truck on a day when we saw a few widely-scattered thin clouds whose moisture content might fill a thimble. The sky seemed more ashen than pale blue, dominated by a big yellow sun throwing out heat like a flame thrower.

Harvey drove the truck up to the factory and we propped the ladder up against a wall. We climbed up to find a roof covered with white gravel, perfect for reflecting heat.

After surveying the roof and locating the areas that needed repair, Harvey and I went back down to the brittle grass and retrieved tools and materials from the truck. Then back up to our hot-as-hades home for the day.

After a couple of hours of scraping and nailing and patching, we took 30 minutes to eat our lunch in the truck. The cab, even with the windows down, felt like an oven. It was almost a relief to get out and go back up the ladder.

A few more hours of work and Harvey inspected the results, finding them adequate. “No rain, no leak,” he said, echoing the standard guarantee of our work crew.

Wiping our sweat for the hundredth time, we gathered our equipment and headed back down to the ground. We loaded the truck and returned to the cab, noting that the temperature felt even hotter as the sun began to move toward the west.

As we drove up north, the wind blowing in the windows felt like a blast furnace. And it was a long way back to the shop.

Then we saw the sign — “Ice Cold Watermelons.”

Harvey parked next to the building and we looked longingly at the juicy watermelons chilling in the ice-filled chest. He picked out a nice round one, paid the man and we got back in the truck.

There was no time for etiquette. Harvey pulled out his pocket knife, slid out the blade and sliced the melon in two, one half for each of us.

I can still taste the sweet, very cold, red flesh of that watermelon. Every bite cooled my mouth and I sucked out every bit of water before swallowing.

Harvey was enjoying his melon half every bit as much as I savored mine. We sat there and ate watermelon all the way down to the rind. I would have devoured the rind but my sated belly was crying, “Enough already!”

For some reason, the ride back home seemed much cooler.

I’ve had some really good watermelons in my life. But the melon we ate that evening after a hot day on the job is far and away the best ever.

That’s why, whenever I cut open a watermelon, I think of Harvey.

Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189,