The people's voice of reason

Tears & Laughter -Growing Tomatoes & Thumping Watermelons

By this time of the year, gardeners have already tilled their ground and formed their rows. They have sown seeds that by now sprouting and growing. The watching and waiting has begun.

I like people who garden. There is a realness about them I appreciate. A lack of pretentiousness.

I am from people who garden. They were good at it. If I look back at census records of my old family, they were listed as farmers. They have gardened for a long time.

Growing up in Sandflat, I would follow behind my dad as he plowed rows with his tiller. I would step where he had stepped. My barefoot print centering the print his boot had left in the soft, fresh earth.

My granddaddy prided himself in growing tomatoes. He grew a little of everything – okra, purple hull peas, all kinds of squash, and corn. Running beans that would grow up poles with vines so thick they looked like a wall. But tomatoes seemed to be his favorite.

Mama always said he planted more tomatoes than necessary because he liked to watch them grow. And it is true that he would take the time late in the afternoons to check their progress. He stalked them as they grew, giving the heavy limbs support.

He would watch for tiny yellow blooms that would soon turn into little green tomatoes that would swell plump and round in the hot sun, and eventually they would turn that deep red orange that would peer out from the green plant.

Nobody left Granny’s in the summertime without a bag of tomatoes.

My other grandfather considered himself a bit of an expert of the watermelon. He was raised farming, but after taking a job with the state and moving to Mobile, I don’t think he ever touched a plow again, but he made it his business every year to judge watermelons at grocery stores and roadside stands.

He judged them, by thumping them.

I don’t think he ever passed a watermelon he didn’t thumb.

And apparently he was gifted at thumping watermelons, like his daddy and granddaddy before him, because he could tell if they were ripe, sweet, and planted on good Friday by the percussion caused by the thump.

Because of him, my brother and I would also thump watermelons. We would thump them and then put our ear close to it like we were hearing secrets from the deep. Then we would make up the number of seeds inside, the quality of the soil it was grown in, and the name of the farm who had planted it.

I don’t garden myself. Even living on a farm, I make no attempt. I am not good at it, and like a lot of people, I prefer to buy produce out of the back of old pickup trucks parked at the courthouse square. I like farmer’s markets and roadside stands. I like vegetables I buy out of yards on the way to Florida.

I watch for hand painted signs every summer.

The farmer’s market, in all of its forms, started centuries ago – connecting farmers directly with customers. It continues today with the same intent. The offerings and tastes remain the same, as does the welcoming energy that pulls people in off of highways – just for the chance to hold bright red tomatoes in their hand and thump ripe watermelons. They offer the spirit of what used to be. The connection to land and place and dusty fields. To grandfathers…and to kitchen tables.


Amanda Walker is a contributor with, The Selma Times Journal, Thomasville Times, West Alabama Watchman, and Alabama Gazette. Contact her at or at


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