I got to Mr. Pauli’s stable a little early its about 8:30am and as I was walking I could see several men unloading green watermelons from an old red truck on to the peddler’s wagon. The next thing I expect to see is Pinto the horse being hooked up to the wagon to pull that heavy load of watermelons around the neighborhood. The 90 degree heat wave is not letting up. Pinto is a strong horse but this heat and pulling the heavy wagon will take its toll on poor Pinto. Mr. Pauli will have to load extra water on his wagon for Pinto. I must admit that I was not looking forward to carrying heavy watermelons to apartments that were two or three stories high in this heat. But I was excited about riding with Mr. Pauli up high on the wagon. I felt like we were on a stage coach heading west and if we run into any outlaws I know that the Lone Ranger and Tonto will come to our rescue. But just in case the Lone Ranger is busy I carried my trusty pearl handle silver six shooter cap pistol with me to protect our load of watermelons from outlaws.
As I got closer to the stable Mr. Pauli turned towards me with a DiNobli cigar in his mouth “good morning, Are you ready to go to work? It looks like it’s going to be a very hot day and if we don’t sell most of the melons before noon I may have to dump the hot and rotted melons this afternoon.” “Don’t worry Mr. Pauli I think that they will sell fast since everybody is off work tomorrow looking forward to the big Fourth of July celebration.”
“Okay,Pinto is set so we better get moving. Come up on the wagon and sit next to me.” “Yes sir.” So I immediately climbed up on the wagon with Mr. Pauli. Mr. Pauli then started to whip the leather reins gently on Pinto’s back yelling “Get-e-app.” At first Pinto wasn’t able to pull the loaded wagon but after a couple of seconds and gentle coaxing from Mr. Pauli the heavy wagon started to move forward. Then Mr. Pauli started calling out in a loud voice “Melons, Fresh Melons, come get them while they last. Come on pretty ladies buy your melon today and we will carry them home for you.” Just then several housewives started calling from their windows for Mr. Pauli to wait for them to came down and select a melon. Mrs. Marguerite, a heavy set woman approached the wagon, she was warring a soiled white apron with red stains which was most likely tomato sauce.
She selected the largest melon on the wagon which must weigh 20 pounds and asked me to carry it for her to her second floor apartment. I cradled the large melon in my arms and followed Mrs. Marguerite about a hundred feet to her doorway. I was saying to myself that I didn’t think I could do this all day long. But I was stronger than I thought and after I made my delivery Mrs. Marguerite gave me 20 cents. WOW! This was a great start. I then started calculating to myself…10 melons, times 20 cents equals two dollars. 20 melons times 20 cents equals four dollars. This is going to me a great day that is if I don’t die from exhaustion or a heart attack.
No such luck. My euphoria quickly diminished and reality set in when I started receiving tips that were ranging from 10 cents to a nickel. Not everyone was a generous as Mrs. Marguerite. Several hours have gone by and it looks like more than one third of the melons were sold. Mr. Pauli was optimistic in thinking that we would be completely sold out by early afternoon. Pinto, Mr. Pauli and I had to keep drinking a lot of water as the hot sun was beating down on us and the temperature was lingering over ninety degrees. We kept eating slices of one watermelon Mr. Pauli cut up just to keep cool.
When we passed by my grammar school I saw my friend Jimmy Pizza, Henry, Reno and a bunch of guys playing stoop ball opposite the Cardinal Tank Factory. It was a great location for stoop ball even though it wasn’t much of a stoop to play off. The stoop has only three steps any if you hit the ball on the stoop at the right angle the ball will fly over the roof of the factory which is over a hundred feet high. It was exciting to hit this home run but we would lose a lot of balls up there. But sometimes, Mike, Henry’s father, the watchman, would go on the roof a throw down about 10 or 12 balls that he would find there. Most of the balls Mike found on the roof were rotted out from the weather. But we were happy to get 2 to 3 good ones.
Mike is very thoughtful and kind man. He knew that kids in the neighborhood could barely afford to buy one ball to play with. As we passed the school I heard Jimmy call out “hey Keno, let’s hang out together with Pecker for the 4th of July. I’ll come by your building to call you”. I have him the high sign and yelled back “sounds great to me, see ya”.
We traveled about ten blocks in a full circle when I said to Mr. Pauli “Sorry Mr. Pauli, I don’t think that I can do this much longer.” “Okay kid I know that you’re working hard and that you’re killing yourself to make the delivers in this heat. But It looks like we’re almost sold out and It’s time for us to stop at Nick’s for lunch. It’s my treat.” I was very thankful since I was just about all out of gas. Mr. Pauli and Pinto didn’t look so good either. We stopped in front of Nick’s sandwich shop and would you know it, the longshoremen having lunch there bought the rest of the melons from Mr. Pauli and gave me a tip even though I didn’t have to deliver any melons for them.
Mr. Pauli, Pinto and I were very grateful. I don’t think that I was the only one who was running out of gas. We went into the sandwich shop and I ordered my usual roast beef hero loaded with fried eggplant and hot salad and Mr. Pauli gave me the okay to buy not one but two ice cold Manhattan Special coffee sodas. After that I had a big slice of watermelon to top off our lunch. As Mr. Pauli and I sat onthe flat bed of the wagon, which was now empty, to eat our lunch. I noticed that there was one melon left. This melon was the largest and seemed to be the best of the lot. I was too hungry and thirsty to make a comment to Mr. Pauli. As I was eating and drinking my ice cold Manhattan Special soda, I was thinking to myself that Mr. Pauli must have saved this melon to take home to his family.
It was mid-afternoon when we finished our lunch. I was wiped out. I needed a bath and after eating my big hero and drinking two ice cold Manhattan Specials I felt like I could go to sleep. Mr. Pauli was looking at me as I was dosing off in the corner of the wagon. “Come on kid, wake up. This is where you live right? We sold all the melons, there is nothing to unload. So it doesn’t make sense for you to come back to the stable with me.” “Yeah, this is where I live, a couple of floors above Nick’s sandwich shop. Thanks Mr. Pauli for letting me work with you today. I haven’t counted all my tips yet, but thanks, to the longshoremen, I think a collected over five dollars total.
I’m so tired but it was a very good day for me.” “Okay kid, I hope that you can carry one more melon. Here take this melon I saved for you to take home. Give it to your mother with my regards. Your parents are lucky to have a son that is such a hard worker.
” I suddenly woke up. “Thanks Mr.Pauli. My mother will be very happy.” I was now full of energy. I jumped off the wagon and Mr. Pauli handed me the melon. Even though it was the largest melon on the wagon it seemed as light as a feather as I was carrying it up the stairs to bring it to my mother.