Preston Carmichael was a good
man. Everyone knew that. I never heard a single bit of criticism about
him. But I didn't know just how good he was until I Was grown and had not
seen him in years.
He looked like an average farmer. His wife Evy was a
good old country Mama. They had two pretty daughters, Jo Ann and Alsa
Dean. Jo Ann sang Soprano and Alsa Dean sang alto at the Hickory Grove
Baptist church. Both were good students at Moss and neither was ever in
trouble for any reason. Preston and Evy also raised a boy who was not
their own son. He was younger and I did not get to know him. They were all
They lived on an eighty acre farm two miles west and
three south of Horntown. The farm was pure sand and was best suited to
peanuts and watermelons. Preston always planted a large watermelon patch
near the road. I always wondered why he planted such a large field of
watermelons. Hundreds of them went to waste each year. The field by the
road was a bad place. It made the melons...well...ah, shall we say,
accessible. The road was lined on both sides by large trees making a dark
tunnel on a moonless night. It was easy to ride a horse down the road, tie
him to a tree limb and crawl through the fence. And I've been told (blush)
that boys all around Hickory Grove did this regularly and often. There was
little danger of cars coming along that road. In the forties, people
around Horntown did not go out after dark.
There were several problems. (or so they tell me) One
was those painful little sand burs. The second problem was a huge weed
called Canadian Thistle. They grew profusely in sandy soil. If the weed so
much as touched your skin, it would burn for hours, worse than any wasp
sting. The third problem was even more serious. Little copperhead snakes
loved the shade of melon vines. They looked harmless enough but were
dangerous. Just ask Johnny Roberts. He stepped on one once and walked on
crutches for six weeks.
Stealing watermelons sounds like larceny. I'm not so
sure. I've searched the Bible and have yet to find any prohibition of
stealing watermelons or lying about fishing.
At the Hickory Grove church, people did not go home for
an hour and a half after the services were dismissed. Women visited
inside, the men hunkered down against the side of the church, sharing a
'plug' of Day's Work tobacco and some of us younger people stood out by
the road, told stories and entertained each other.
One such Sunday, Preston talked a while with the men
and walked out to where we were having fun. He walked up and said, "Boys,
the watermelons are ready. If you don't get at em, they're gonna spoil."
Being good boys, we did as we were told.
Years later, it dawned on me that he planted extra
melons each year just for us. It must have been a lot of work. All the
plowing, harrowing, planting and hand hoeing of the thistles and crab
grass. Unselfishly, he did it for us, all of us, just so we could
experience that rite of passage that was so much a part of our tradition.
He well knew the tradition of ..ah... procuring melons and he made it easy
I've thought about this a lot through the years, and,
as I look back, I see more and more reason to believe that Preston was a
special man, with a very special family. It was a privilege being
neighbors with the Carmichaels.
I wish I had told him so.
Clayton Adair, Class of 1954 (Clayton attended Moss 1942-53 and
graduated from Holdenville - 1954)