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Crime Never Pays

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Crime Never Pays


Jimmy Reed

Jimmy Reed (jimmycecilreedjr@gmail.com) is an Oxford, Mississippi resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran, former Mississippi Delta cotton farmer, and retired college teacher. His collection of short stories is available via southernstoris.com.

No doubt American humorist Mark Twain could not resist stealing a few watermelons because as he once said, “The true Southern watermelon is a boon apart, not to be mentioned with commoner things. It is king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took. We know it because she repented.”

I couldn’t agree more. Nothing tastes better than sweet, juicy watermelon. It’s good store bought, better home grown, best stolen.

“You won’t believe the watermelon patch we found hidden in a bend of Deer Creek,” my pal Clyde said one Saturday morning. “Let’s rob it tonight.”

Later that day, I asked Jaybird, my boyhood best friend and mentor, if he’d ever stolen anything.

“When folks are starving, they will steal if the opportunity arises, no matter how righteous they are when they ain’t hungry,” the wise old black man said. “That doesn’t make stealing right, but I imagine it’s less sinful to steal when you are starving than for other reasons. Back in the Great Depression, there were times I had to steal to eat.”

“Me and my pals are robbing a watermelon patch tonight,” I boasted.

“Where is it?” he asked.

“Clyde said it’s hidden in a bend of Deer Creek.”

After staring at me for a moment, he said, “Yep, that’s where they grow best — in good sandy soil like on a creek bank. If I were going to grow some melons, that’s where I’d have a patch. Just remember what I said: When starving folks steal to eat it’s bad enough, but it’s sho’nuff against the Ten Commandments to steal when they’re getting plenty to eat like you do.”

Still, the temptation was too great, and I went against Jaybird’s advice. The moon was out when we arrived at the watermelon patch, and we had no trouble finding two huge melons that would qualify for the king and queen over all the fruits of the earth.

Snickering, Earl said, “Let’s cut ’em open right here. Since they’re way more than we can eat, we’ll leave behind what’s left over. That’ll made the owner mighty angry.”

We had barely chomped down on the first juicy bite when a familiar voice thundered, “It sure as heck will.” We were in Jaybird’s watermelon patch! Before we could move, he was towering over us, blinding us with a huge flashlight.

“Y’all got two choices — ride with me to town and confess to the sheriff, or sit right there and eat every bite of those two melons.”

We chose the latter. Soon our bellies were bloated, but every time we stopped eating, Jaybird threatened to take us to town. When nothing was left but rinds, he looked down with a justifiable smirk on a bunch of miserable boys, turned, and disappeared into the night.

Once again, my beloved old mentor taught me an unforgettable life lesson: Crime never pays. 

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