If you’re an Oklahoman, chances are at least once in your life you’ve made the short jaunt to the town of Rush Springs for their world-famous Watermelon Festival; it’s an Okie rite-of-passage that I finally decided to take upon myself this past Saturday, conveniently as they celebrate their 75th year of seed-spitting wantonness.
Even in the 104-degree heat, hundreds (thousands?) of people made it out to not only sinfully covet some of the best, biggest, and ripest melons in the biz, but to also enjoy the wicked carnival atmosphere that I and my festival-loving pal Jodie walked right into; like a small section of the State Fair transplanted to Jeff Davis Park, the Music Express, the Sizzler and the Zipper—all real ride names, mind you—were in full swing, literally, for only a few tickets.
After a somewhat quick walkthrough of the non-watermelon games, non-watermelon food and disastrous non-watermelon ATM machines, we walked across the park to the area where the real Watermelon Festivities were happening, past the strange concrete pit that had numerous sticky-handed children drinking and splashing from a leaky pipe of water.
The reason for the celebration’s whole being, apparently, was the large sweltering shed that held all of this year’s prize-winning watermelons. Alongside gleaming pictures of the cult-like Watermelon Queens of days passed, the ground-sprung offerings included flavorful melons, shapely melons and, saving the best for last, obese melons and all their ribbons galore.
The line around the building was hilariously long, mostly filled with people using their phones to photograph their assorted babies and toddlers next to the larger watermelons, hopefully to use as a Christmas card later in the year, or, even possibly, as a delightfully adorable missing persons photo, just in case.
Walking along the festival’s inventive arts and craft section—lots of watermelon salsa—I began to notice ample use of the hateful word “Redskins” on many a wall, shirt and billboard. As I quickly learned, the Rush Springs high school mascot is this disgusting slur against Indigenous people, but even that was somewhat digestible until further on down the line, across from the Confederate flag and Trump stickers, was a vendor selling multi-feathered Native headdresses.
While my first instinct was to buy one for Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, instead I quietly left the whole scene, knowing full well that I am mostly powerless against an army of melon-high rednecks with various Pakistani-made blades in full reach. But, still, it added a bitter taste to the day’s events, one that I immediately needed to wash out with the whole reason I came to this damned festival in the first place: a large slice of watermelon.
As a couple with guitars warbled “Tequila Sunrise” in the pavilion, the line for watermelon slices was enjoyable short and excessively cheap—only $2, and then it’s free after 4 p.m. Paying my two bucks, I headed to a small metal gazebo that looked like a watermelon massacre had recently taken place; drippings covered the floor as sticky pools of organic ooze rested on the bar, the melon squirting in my direction as I plunged my fork deep inside.
Relatively sweet, I had a few bites of this renowned fruit from the “Watermelon Capital of the World,” and, to be honest, it does live up to every expectation I had about this town’s main food product. A little too large a slice for me, however, so I offered the rest of my melon to a little girl whose father was hogging most of hers. She gleefully accepted.
As we started back to the parking lot, I noticed a corn-on-the-cob vendor glumly stirring a large vat of boiling corn, sweat dripping off his brow as the Rush Springs sun beat down hard on him. I sure do hope that he’ll get himself a slice of cool watermelon before they’re all sold out, I thought to myself as I wiped black melon seeds off the front of my shirt and onto the ground.