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Johnny Cash and Cantaloupe

homegrown cantaloupe


When I visited my grandparents’ house each summer, my grandfather and I would undoubtedly find our way to the basement family room where he’d cut one of the many cantaloupes he grew in his garden into sections and we’d each take a plateful. We’d listen to his Johnny Cash albums while biting into the sweetest, most flavourful cantaloupe I ever tasted. The brilliant orange fruit bore no resemblance to the lacklustre, bland grocery store varieties I ate back in the city. We’d talk for hours while Johnny belted out tune after tune, and we’d usually polish off a few cantaloupes during each evening, so I was grateful he’d grown so many in anticipation of my visits.

My grandfather died several years ago but my thoughts always go back to cantaloupe and Cash whenever his favourite singer comes on the radio. And, for a moment, I’m back with my grandfather enjoying one of our many discussions about music, gardening, and the realities of life. Whenever I spent time with him, my life ventured outside of its normal sanitized childhood parameters that parents like to keep their children within.

On my lengthier overnight visits, I’d find him balancing breakfast over a few morning rounds of cards, an occasional puff of a cigarette, and his periodic intense silence during which he carefully listened to the unique songs of nearby birds. “I haven’t heard that call in over a decade,” he’d tell me. “I think that’s a good sign they’re making a comeback.” Soon afterward, he’d head off to work.

At the end of the day, we’d wander around his garden, picking whatever insanely-sized produce seemed to be coming up. I didn’t realize it at the time but my grandfather was a blue-ribbon homesteader. He may have worked all day but his life really seemed to get started at the end of his shift. That’s when he tended to his garden and preserved countless jars of tomatoes, pickles, or whatever else was in season. He only had an acre of land but he used every inch of it for a massive garden, a small chicken coup, and the many birdfeeders he made. And, compared to the postage-stamp-sized urban lot where I lived, it was great to have some space to roam.

He grew a bit of everything from cucumbers and beans to tomatoes and watermelons, and of course, cantaloupe for our Cash and Cantaloupe evenings. He made plentiful amounts of pickled vegetables and canned countless jars of his own tomato sauce, long before it became trendy. I’d sit at the table with him while he did canning and we’d talk for hours. While he said it was to save money, he seemed to love his hours gardening, pickling, and canning after he got home from his full-time job too.

He even taught me how to roll cigarettes, something I’m sure my parents would have frowned upon had they known about my childhood hobby. Actually, I’m sure most people would have scowled at our shared pastime, but, conversation rolled off our tongues faster than cigarettes rolled out of the little manual machine, even though I had become pretty quick at churning out smokes. And, it was during these times that I bonded with the old man, not realizing how much of an impact he had made on my life. No, I never became a chain smoker, or even smoked at all, but instead developed a passion for homesteading and the largely self-sufficient life he had created for himself and my grandmother.

Harold John was not a perfect man and indeed battled and overcame many demons in his life, but when it came to growing, preparing, and preserving his own food, he was a master and an inspiration. I’m eagerly awaiting some cantaloupe from my own garden and intend to let Johnny belt out some tunes while I savour their delightful taste, and I’m hoping my grandfather will join me in spirit.

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