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Eight Decades of Watermelons

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Pennington & Sons Celebrates 80 Years

By Jason Jones

Messenger Reporter

GRAPELAND – In order to properly celebrate 80 years, one must get a firsthand taste of the real deal. No, not the otherworldly flavorful perfection that is a Pennington watermelon – but a ride. A ride in a truck. A ride in a truck full of fledgling college journalism majors and a couple of old reporters who have a lifetime of experience in devouring the national fruit of east Texas.

With Mr. Troy.

We thought we knew all there was to know about watermelons; ask the current generation of smiling young ladies at the trailer to pick out a good one (or three) for you. Pay the going rate. Transport it to the landing zone. Split it open with whatever sharp object you can find. Add salt (or don’t. Whatever floats your boat.) Bite, chew, savor, spit the seeds, and enjoy your slice of heaven.

Turns out there’s more to it.

Mr. Troy Pennington has been doing this for around 58 years. From the driver’s seat of his Chevrolet pickup, he begins to field questions and point out the interesting features the layman might otherwise miss in a watermelon patch. This patch was approximately 160 acres, so perhaps “patch” is, well, whatever the opposite of “grandiose” is. This was more like a vast landscape of watermelon Royalty.

“These are our best watermelons we got right here, these Red Diamonds. They are our own watermelons.”

Mr. Troy isn’t referring to these particular melons in the patch as “their own.” Red Diamond watermelons are Pennington creations. “Our own watermelons” means these are the family’s babies. This variety was born and developed in a Pennington field. They are the top of the heap.

While answering a question regarding where he gets his seeds, Mr. Troy replied “well, we get them from two different seed companies…”

There was a pause.

“Now, everybody wants to know – these Red Diamonds are seedless – and everybody wants to know how we plant seedless watermelons when there aren’t any seeds.” From the back seat a voice queried “so what do you tell them?”

“Like the old boy down in Crockett says, he ain’t gonna tell you. It’s a family secret!”

Fair enough.

According to Mr. Troy, they purchase around 150,000 seeds for the seedless variety, and another 100,000 of the regular variety.

“Now these are our best shipping watermelons here.” We pull alongside a row of what Mr. Troy describes as “conventional seedless,” or “Fascination.” These are the kinds you would find in your local Wal Mart.

Along the drive through the various sections of the field, we got an education. We learned how those Fascination seeds were planted along with another variety called Stargazer for purposes of pollination. We learned that the Penningtons have to import bees every year to do the heavy lifting in the pollination department.

We also learned that sometimes having four-wheel drive doesn’t necessarily mean you can make it to the other side of that mud hole.

Thank you for the tow Ross.

But the mud hole taught us that irrigation must continue, even during unseasonably wet times, as the melons need nourishment from the bottom side.

The amount of knowledge and experience necessary to grow a single watermelon, let alone enough to keep a widely renowned business going strong, is more than a little overwhelming.

It’s no wonder my celery stalk died during that kindergarten experiment. I had no clue.

All of us – those of us who have spent any amount of time in east Texas and then abroad – have the exact same story we tell;

“So I’m walking through the grocery store in Fredericksburg, Texas (or Fredericksburg, Virginia – or any other grocery store in the country,) and I walk over to get a watermelon, and I kid you not – there was a Pennington sticker on it!”

You know you’ve said it. Once you see it you can’t help it. You pick up the watermelon, carry it to the nearest stranger and begin rambling on about how “these were grown in my hometown! By my neighbors!”

It’s mildly embarrassing in retrospect, but well worth it. Plus, you get to have watermelon! Score!

Thank you, Pennington family. Not just for today’s ride, but for a lifetime of knowing exactly where home is. Congratulations and here’s to the next 80 years.

Jason Jones may be contacted via e-mail at jjones@messenger-news.com.

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