The Fourth of July always makes me think of freedom, patriotism, fireworks, and battles. Food plays a large role, too. Actually, I have my own battle with food.
No, I'm not talking about overeating and trying to cut back. Or attempting to make the perfect hamburger or apple pie and not succeeding. I'm talking about my quest to find something that used to be simple to find. A watermelon. And not just any watermelon, but one with seeds. Shiny, black seed-spitting seeds.
You see, I've always had a fondness for watermelon. As a child growing up in Japan, watermelons were as round as basketballs. When I went to the grocery store in Virginia---either the Safeway or the A and P---with my grandma Patsie, I saw watermelons were oblong and big. (Everything seemed bigger to me in America.) The shape didn't matter; as long as I got to experience the joy of watermelon-eating.
My own children liked watermelon, too. We had seed-spitting contests on the driveway. The sun would be setting on another hot Fourth of July, our bellies would be full of potato salad, hamburgers and soda, and the crickets and bullfrogs would start serenading one another. Right before fireworks crackled into the night sky, we'd see how far we could spit those black seeds. With air in our lungs, we'd aim and shoot, trying to get that seed to sail the farthest. After everyone had a turn, with sticks, we'd mark our success. My mother always seemed to be the winner, even though Daniel tried, and yes, cheated.
The Fourth of July in 1996, we weren't picnicking in the backyard, but rather, at the hospital. Three-year-old Daniel was finishing up another round of chemo. Friends brought a watermelon over to his room. Daniel was excited to get his slice and ate it down to the rind, the juice running along the top of his Looney-Tune pajamas and slipping onto the sheets. With a seed in his mouth, he spit it near the thirteen-year-old girl who'd brought the watermelon over. We all laughed. Later, she told me she couldn't find it in her heart to spit seeds at a little bald-headed boy with cancer.
After consuming as much of the watermelon as we could, Daniel claimed he was full. "I've had enough watermelon," he said. With a little help, he stored the watermelon in the bath tub next to his hospital room.
Next Fourth of July, I thought, we'll be having our traditional cook-out at our home. Next year, we'll be back to spitting seeds in the driveway.
But Daniel didn't make it to the next July 4th. He died in my arms on a cold winter night long before the annual watermelon harvest.
Now, in his memory, we eat watermelon. We still spit seeds. In fact, word got around, and over the years, people have sent me watermelon mementoes. I have key chains, cards, photos, wind chimes, dishes, candles, and even a rug decorated with the red and green fruit. Many of the special pieces in my current collection were sent to me from friends in Japan.
But before long, I grew aggravated. I started to see that grocery stores were selling (and proud to advertise) seedless watermelons. Seedless! What is the point of seedless watermelons when the desire is to be able to spit seeds? Are stores trying to take away my memories? To me, seedless watermelons seem unpatriotic.
Each year, I'm on a quest to find a store that sells watermelons with seeds. I look through all the flyers that come in the mail and plot my shopping trips, determined to win this seed-filled battle.
But you know what? Even if I never find another watermelon grown like I think it should be---fully equipped---I've learned something. No one can steal my memories. They will always be with me, right there, in the core of my heart. All I have to do is close my eyes to see that face covered in red juice, those cheeks puffing out, ready to shoot a black seed across the driveway. Those bright blue eyes, laughing with us all.
Happy Fourth of July, friends! And whether the melon be round or oblong, the important thing is that you spit those seeds happily and forcefully in every seed-spitting contest.