Maybe because I’d lived in town, and my father still worked here instead of farming, like the other fathers did. The boys I knew, even Freddy Gray and J. D. , still kept a small distance between us. Then there was Walden Wills. I hadn’t been much interested in girls before. But I had to admit to myself that I was interested in Walden. She was my age, nearly as tall as l, and up till the year before, Freddy Gray told me, she had been good at playing Gully Keeper and Ante-over. But she didn’t play such games this year. She was tall and slender, and Freddy Gray and J.
D. And I had several discussions about the way she walked. I maintained she was putting it on, but J. D. Claimed she couldn’t alp it. Freddy Gray remarked that she hadn’t walked that way last year. He said she’d walked like any other human being. So then I said, put on or not, I liked the way she walked, and then there was a large silence. It wasn’t a comfortable silence, because of Mr.. Wills, Wildness’s father. We were all afraid of Mr.. Wills. Mr.. Wills was a big man. He had bright, fierce eyes under heavy brows and, when he looked down at you, you Just withered.
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The idea of having him directly and immediately angry at one of us was enough to shrivel the soul. All that summer Walden walked up and down the high road or sat on their front porch in a rocking hair, her dress flared out around her, and not one of us dared to do more than say good morning to her. Mr.. Wills was the best farmer in the community. My father said he could drive a stick into the ground and grow a tree out of it. But it wasn’t an easy fields, you could hear him yelling for a mile. It was as though he dared the earth not to yield him its sustenance. Above all, Mr.. Wills could raise watermelons.
Now, watermelons are curious things. Some men can send off for the best watermelon seed, they can plant it in the best ground they own, they can hoe it and tend it with the greatest of care, and they can’t ease a melon bigger than your two fists. Other men, like Mr.. Wills, can throw seed on the ground, scuff dirt over it, walk off and leave it, and have a crop of the prettiest, biggest melons you ever saw. Mr.. Wills always planted the little field directly behind his barn to watermelons. It ran from the barn to the creek, a good piece of land with Just the right sandy soil for melon raising.
And it seemed as though the melons Just bulged up out of the ground for him. But they were Mr.. Will’s melons; he didn’t have any idea of sharing them with the boys of the neighborhood. He was fiercer about his melons that anything else; if you just happened to walk close to his melon patch, you’d see Mr.. Wills standing and watching you with a glower on his face. And likely as not he’d have his gun under his arm. Everybody expected to lose a certain quantity of their watermelons to terrapins and a certain quantity to boys. It wasn’t considered stealing to sneak into a man’s melon patch and Judiciously borrow a sample of his raising.
T h e Ta s et o f M e I o n 131 You might get a load of salt in the seat of your pants if you were seen, but that was part of the game. You’d be looked down on only if you got malicious and stamped a lot of melons into the ground while you were about it. But Mr.. Wills didn’t think that way. That summer I was sixteen Mr.. Wills raised the greatest watermelon ever seen in the country. It grew in the very middle of his patch, three times as big as any melon anybody had ever seen. Men came from miles around to look at it. Mr.. Wills wouldn’t let them go into the melon patch. They had to stand around the edge.
Just like all other daredevil boys in that country, I guess, Freddy Gray and J. D. And I had talked idly about stealing that giant watermelon. But we all knew that it was Just talk. Not only were we afraid of Mr.. Wills and his rages but we knew that Mr.. Wills sat n the hayloft window of his barn every night with his shotgun, guarding the melon. It was his seed melon. He meant to plant next year’s crop out of that great one and maybe raise a whole field of them. Mr.. Wills was in a frenzy of fear that somebody would steal it. Why, he would rather you stole Walden than his melon. At least, he didn’t guard Walden with his shotgun.
Every night I could sit on our front porch and see Mr.. Wills sitting up there in the window of his hayloft, looking fiercely out over his melon patch. I’d sit there by the hour and watch him, the shotgun cradled in his arm, and feel the tremors of fear and excitement chasing up and down my spine. “Look at him,” my father would say. “Scared to death somebody will steal his seed taking care of that wife of his,” my mother would say tartly. “She’s been poorly all year. ” You hardly ever saw Mrs.. Wills. She was a wraith of a woman, pale as a butter bean. Sometimes she would sit for an hour or two on their porch in the cool of the day.
They didn’t visit back and forth with anybody though. “There’s Walden,” my father would say mildly. My mother would make a funny kind of sound that meant disgust. “He cares more about that seed melon than he does his wife,” she’d say. “I wish somebody would teal it. Maybe thenвЂ?” “Helen,” my father would say, chiding, “you shouldn’t even think of such a thing. ” About the time the great watermelon was due to come ripe, there was a night of a full moon. J. D. And Freddy Gray and I had decided we’d go swimming in the creek, so I left the house when the moon rose and went to meet them.
The moon floated up into the sky, making everything almost as bright as day, but at the same time softer and gentler than ever daylight could be. It was the kind of night when you feel as though you can do anyway thing in the world, even boldly asking Walden Wills for a date. On a night like that, o couldn’t help but feel that she’d gladly accept. “Boy, what a moon! ” J. D. Said when I met them. “Wouldn’t you like to take old Walden out on a night like this? ” Freddy Gray said. We scoffed at him, but secretly in our hearts we knew how he felt.
We were getting old enough to think that that sort of thing might be a lot more fun than going swimming in the moonlight. As I said before, I was part of the bunch. J. D. And Freddy Gray were my good friends. But because I was still new, there were certain things and certain feelings where I was left out. This was one of them; they were afraid, because I was more of a trainer to Walden, that she might like the idea of dating me better than she did either of them. This was all way down under the surface, because none of us had admitted to ourselves that we wanted to be Wildness’s boyfriend.
But far down though it was, I could feel it, and they could feel it. “l wish I had a newspaper,” I said then. “I’ll bet you could read it in this moonlight. ” We had reached the swimming hole in the creek, and we began shucking off our clothes. We were all excited by the moonlight, yelling at one another and rushing to be first into the water. Freddy Gray made it first, J. D. ND I catapulting in right behind him. The water was cold, and the shock of it struck a chill into us. But we got rid of it by a brisk water fight and then we were all right. We climbed out finally, to rest, and sat on the bank.