West Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature

     Tony Beaver and the Watermelon Party


Listen to the story, read by Phil Wyatt.

Tony Beaver was best known as a woodsman, but he also busied himself in other ways. One time Tony decided that he and his family and Hannibal and Goliath, his two oxen, ate so much that he might as well go into the gardening business. "Might as well raise some of the food we eat," he told his sister Molly.

Molly looked a little doubtful but knowing that Tony had quite a head on his shoulders, she agreed. "What will you raise?" she asked.

"I'm going to raise all the things that I like best," Tony told her.

    

"Don't forget pumpkins for pumpkin pie," Molly said.

"And cucumbers for bread and butter pickles," chimed in Betsey, Tony's other sister.

 
 

"And I like watermelon, so I'll have to plant them, too," Tony said. "All these vine plants should grow well here. The vines can just twine their tendrils around the stones and bushes and keep from sliding off the hills."

So the next morning Tony started out to pick a spot for his garden. He picked a high mountain that had been burned off some time ago and was now covered with brush. Hannibal and Goliath helped Tony get the field plowed and ready for the seed. At the bottom of the hill, he put in watermelon seed. Above that he put in pumpkin seed. Above that, cucumber seed went in, and, having some room left, he added a few acorn squash seed.

Tony didn't just sit back and wait for the seed to sprout. He kept his field watered and fertilized. And he kept out the weeds. Finally Tony's hillside looked like a tropical garden, with its vines and fruits so thick that a man could get lost in the tangle.

Tony was so pleased with the results of his latest venture that he invited all the people of Eel's Landing out to visit his garden. Tony drove up in a giant size wagon which he had made especially for hauling his produce. Goliath and Hannibal were pulling it.

"I think I'll take a watermelon home first and maybe a pumpkin and some cucumbers tucked in around the sides," Tony decided.

Tony drove his wagon up beside the biggest watermelon in the field, but it wouldn't fit into the wagon. One by one he tried all the other watermelons. There wasn't one in the whole field that would fit into the wagon. This made Tony a trifle disheartened.

   

"Try the pumpkins," someone suggested. But the pumpkins had grown just as big as the watermelons. Not one would fit into Tony's wagon. By this time, Tony was very discouraged.

 

"At least we can have bread and butter pickles," said Betsey. With much struggling and the help of his neighbors, Tony managed to get three cucumbers loaded in the wagon.

 

           

 

"If we can't take the watermelons to town, we can eat them here. Fall to and help yourselves," Tony invited. That's how the town of Eel's Landing had its first watermelon party on the side of a hill high above the Eel River.

Now when the folks finished eating the juicy watermelon, they gave the rinds a toss down the hill into the Eel. Soon they were having contests to see who could throw the rind the farthest. By the time the party was over and Tony had finished eating his fifteenth watermelon, the Eel was filled with floating rind.

Tony looked at the rind floating down the river to the dam at Eel's Landing. "Sure is a lot of waste," he said. Then his face lit up. "Give me that salt," he said. He emptied into the Eel the salt that everyone had been using on the watermelon. "Now I need some vinegar and spices," he said as he headed for home with his wagonload of cucumbers.

The next day the people noticed that all of the watermelon rind had gathered against the dam. Shortly thereafter Tony Beaver came rolling a huge barrel down to the river's edge. He filled it partly full of brine and then he scooped the rind out of the river and put it into the barrel.

"Why are you doing that?" folks asked.

"If you like pickles, try these," said Tony, and he handed a piece of rind to his friend Sam.

Sam tasted the rind and exclaimed, "Upon my soul! It's pickled..."

"Watermelon rind," laughed Tony. "Makes mighty good eating on a cold winter night."

And that's how Tony Beaver broke into two new industries at once, gardening and pickle-making.


Based on the story "Eel's Landing Throws a Watermelon Party," in The Remarkable History of Tony Beaver, West Virginian, by Mary E. Cober (New York: David McKay, 1953)


 
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West Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature is a self-contained teaching unit by Avis Caynor and Reneé Wyatt (1997), reprinted with permission in 2003 in the larger web site AppLit.

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