I love Watermelons. Watermelons have played a great role in my life. How could that happen? How could a watermelon be a part of you. Easy! Let me tell you of its early beginnings.
My father was a wholesale watermelon dealer. Beginning in early May to mid September he would be a distributor of 100 or more car loads of watermelons in season. The only problem was it was never enough financially keep us going for the rest of the year. But that is another story.
Since he knew many people in the produce business he was able to introduce me to a successful dealer which proved to be the best job in those Depression years. Even though I only made $35 a week I married, rented an apartment and was able to contributed to my family welfare on this salary which was big for that time.
My job required that I would be a salesman. Later on I also learned to be a buyer. My employer, The T.M. Rini Company became my teacher where I learned everything I had to know about shipped fruit and vegetables from all over the USA.
Here was the catch 22. My fathers business did not enable him to hire a full-time driver. Often time, his freight shipment of melons would arrive and there was no one to drive the truck we owned to unload it. My two brothers Asher and Hal were 4 and 8 years younger than I was. I was in my early 20's at that time.
The freight cars that arrived were located below the commission houses. There were 10 fully loaded railroad tracks with 90% of Cleveland's fresh fruit and vegetable supplies. So when I finished work I would walk over to my fathers stand picked up the truck and put my 2 brothers in the back.
The sun would be pretty hot at noon time because I didn't get there until noon or after. My working hours were from 4am- noon six days a week.
Before trucks began their history the best way to ship was with freight cars. Unfortunately, since watermelon came from the south they would be transported in an open screen freight cars as well as open cars on occasion. So I would be unloading these melons with black coal dust all over them. My shirtless body would be covered in black dust sticking to my body and face. Maybe it was for show but anyway I would like to sit on top of the truck on the watermelons that we were unloading covered in black dust.
The actual market sales day was over exact for a few onlookers here or there. Mr. Rini was quite disturbed by my naked appearance. The first time it occurred he approached me when I came to work. He said "You are a salesman now. It doesn't befit you as a salesman to look that way all covered with soot. It negates your personality."
"Mr. Rini" I answered "This is the only way my father can unload his melons he has no driver and I have to help."
Of course he wasn't satisfied with the answer but I had made the choice I stuck to my guns. But that still doesn't tell you why I love watermelons.
Going on Bess's uncle was a huckster who sold his produce that he purchased in local neighborhoods. Uncle Brick loved to stop by to talk to me and I enjoyed our conversations. He had remade his automobile into part truck to make it easier to load and unload. I never sold him anything but every time he stopped I would give him a carved watermelon with a message to my future wife. Sometimes I would carve out the words "From Maury to Bess. I love you and hope to see you tomorrow."
The watermelon would always be special with a singular message on everyone that I sent. The wholesale produce market is located from 37 Orange St to 40st just one street off Woodland Ave. It has no relationship to the West Sside Market except that it supplies all the produce to that market. Those watermelons were part of my courtship.
It was always a special visit for me when my father took me down to the railroad tracks on Sunday mornings to check out the shipments he was to receive. He would crawl over the 3 tiers of melons digging down to the first tier where he would cut open 3 or 4 melons front and back to see if he though it was a good shipment that would pass USA grade inspection. But that is another story that we will pass for now.
After checking it out off we would go to Glick's restaurant on Broadway where he would shoot dice for breakfast. How did that work? You picked up the dice, shook it in a leather cup and threw it on the table. You don't have to pay if its 11 however any other number you lose and you have to pay the house. Remember I was 10 years old and it all looked so new and glamorous.
I know you would like to hear the story of the railroads that transported the produce. The Nickle Plate railroad came right to the Food Terminal while the New York Central railroad arrived off Broadway. The railroads hired Lobbyists who were dressed to a "T" offering you cigars and whiskey so that you would ship your produce through their railroads.
But that isn't the whole story the best was yet to come. I loved riding on top of my watermelon truck covered with soot on the way home. I knew that Bess would be driving home with her father almost the same time as I was. I also knew that she would be coming through 40th street and we were bound to cross path with each other at some point. We did most days because it was part of her plan as well as mine.
I will never know but it was the beginning of our love affair. But what a sight to see a shirtless Maury waving to Bess as we crossed paths on the way home. But there is another part of the story that will get you thinking.
When we would start to unload in a freight car picking up each melon by hand tossing it to each other in a line we would drop one accidentally on purpose. The watermelon would split open then we would dig in to the melon with our dirty hands and grab the heart, the best part of the melon and stuff it in our mouths. It wasn't cold but the taste was unforgettable.
Oh I know it doesn't sound like true love but I think it does and the memories of those days will remain with me forever.
Top of Page
Cleveland Seniors columns