Watermelon festival eludes road-trippers

By Grant McGee: Local columnist

Watermelon.

That’s what was on our minds as The Lady of the House and I headed south out of Clovis to the Watermelon Roundup in Plains, Texas. It’d been awhile since we’d been road-trippin’ so I was looking forward to rambling down a two-lane blacktop.

There was just a mention of this festival in “Texas Highways” magazine. So what could a “Watermelon Roundup” hold in store? A watermelon parade with watermelon floats? Would there be a watermelon queen doing the “beauty queen wave” to the crowd? Who would win the watermelon seed spittin’ contest? Would there be a free watermelon feed? Would they have my favorite, black diamond?

There were dreams of watermelon on a stick, pickled watermelon rind, watermelon in a cup.

I’ve only been to Plains, Texas, twice. The longest I spent there was stopping at the Dairy Queen for cones. That’s about all I know of Plains: It has a Dairy Queen, it’s the county seat of Yoakum County and it’s about as big as North Plains Mall, including the parking lot.

Remember how cool and overcast it was last Saturday? That wasn’t just in Clovis; that was across the region. It’s the kind of day I like to take to the highway: cloudy, no blazing summer sun to contend with.

We passed a lot of forgotten, unloved farm houses along the way.

“There’s a fixer-upper,” I’d say to some old, gray-wooded frame home leaning to the north.

“Yeah,” said The Lady of the House. “We could have chickens and goats out here.”

We kidded about those old houses as we headed south and we were a bit sentimental about them too. Once upon a time, long ago and far away, they were someone’s home. Kids played in the yard. Someone planted trees to give shade and fight the wind. Families sat around a dinner table and dug in after saying grace. Now they are ghostly ruins.

We passed by Pep. The Lady of the House laughed. “I remember when I first saw that name,” she said. “I was working at the office and we had to mail something to someone in Pep and I said, ‘Where the heck is Pep, New Mexico?’”
“It’s named after a breakfast cereal of the 1930s,” I said, remembering something I’d read. “Whole wheat flakes. It was a sponsor of the ‘Superman’ radio show. Apparently they didn’t have many ideas for names back then.”

We came to Tatum and turned east toward Texas. We rolled into Plains and saw watermelon flags flying from lampposts. It seemed the center of the action was the Yoakum County courthouse; lots of people were hanging around, there were trash barrels painted like watermelons around the courthouse grounds. But people were packing up, too. It seemed the Watermelon Roundup was wrapping up.

“Is this it? Is the festival over?” I asked a lady selling diced fruit in a cup.

“Yeah,” she said. “It got rained out. We had a lot of rain this morning.”

Children were running around on the damp courthouse lawn. People were standing in line under the trees for gorditas, hamburgers and sausage-on-a-stick.

“So much for the big festival,” I said to The Lady of the House. No free watermelon, no watermelon parade, no pickled watermelon rind, no watermelon judging, no watermelon-on-a-stick, no seed spittin’ contest.

“Well,” she said, “at least we got to go on a road trip.”

Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: blisscreek@plateautel.net