Monday, June 11, 2012

Hey, Watermelon Man

I've got watermelon on my mind. Thanks to my friend Linda O'Connell, a superb writer who's been published in just about everything except the Book of Mormon. She wrote about watermelon on her blog a week ago. Here's part of what she said.

" ...Sam the Watermelon Man. He had a watermelon stand on Natural Bridge in North St. Louis when I was a kid. He hung a string of bare light bulbs that auto dealers used to have on their lots. He sliced those oversized oval shaped melons into eighths and sold them 50 cents a slice to families who sat at old wooden picnic tables. That was the sweetest, ice cold  watermelon."

So Linda made me think about Sam and those great, ice cold watermelons he sold. They were Black Diamonds. You don't see them very often now. As a guy at Kirkwood Market told me, "They don't travel well." One of the best parts was the seeds. Big, black seeds that you could spit on the dirt floor in his stand. (Sidenote: I used to have a parrot that sat on my shoulder when I ate watermelon. She waited for the seeds.) Those watermelons were real watermelons. Not like that seedless variety today that is an abomination of nature. Jerry Seinfeld once asked, "What do you think they plant to get seedless watermelons?"

Back to Sam. Dad would take my brother and me to Sam's during the summer, and watch them cut into the thick, dark green skin, reveal that beautiful red flesh, while pieces of ice and cold water ran down the sides. Then slapped onto a paper plate, which we carried to a table and dug in. It was just as special as sitting in the family car parked around Pevely's fountain in Clayton, eating a gold brick sundae. But Sam was unique. His was the only watermelon stand I was aware of, at least in my world. Sam's last name was Zvibleman. I know that because I went to high school with his son, Irv. He was a year ahead of me, graduated U. City in 1952. As I remember him.... and this was a long time ago ...Irv was not a big guy physically, had kind of a "tough guy" attitude, stocky, a somewhat cocky look on his face, hair over his eyes. If he had been an actor, he would've been cast as one of Tony Soprano's hit men with a ten-word vocabulary. I'm sure I've characterized him all wrong. But he was the son of Sam the Watermelon Man. And that elevated him. Nobody else had a dad who could slice a watermelon like Sam. Maybe Irv could too. I don't know. I never saw him do it. I don't even know if he's still alive, or if he's walking through that Great Watermelon Patch in the Sky.

I still love watermelon. I thank Linda for reminding I we need to get one, as soon as we finish our cantaloupe and honeydew. Maybe sooner. See you at the stand. 

By the way, if you want to read some excellent writing, check out Linda's blog, Write From the Heart


  1. Gerry,
    Thanks for the shout out. "everything except the book of Mormon." Still laughing.

  2. Gerry--Update: Linda just got a letter saying she has a submission that the Book of Mormon HAS accepted.

    I hate watermelon, but your description was of the experience was wonderful.

    Yeah...Linda laughs all the way to the mailbox every day...;)

  3. Ran across your blog while Googling Sam and his watermelon. Hubby and I were reminiscing about back in the day when we grew up in STL and Sam the Watermelon Man. At some point he got a second location down on Chippewa and Gravois and that's where my mom would take us. It had terrible splintery picnic tables and lots of flies but boy were those watermelon slices great on a hot day! And where else could a kid go, make themselves a sticky mess and not get in trouble for it? Thanks for bringing back a great memory. :)

  4. Grandfather had watermelon stand in university city on olive street.
    Buisness was started in the 1930s. gas house gang would stop by and kids came by to get autographs. Grand pa said they were cheap tippers. The building had yellow lights around building with peat gravel floor. Older brother would help put watermelons to bed by putting tarps on them.watermelons floated in big vats of black water and floating block ice.

  5. Irv is still alive happily retired and living with his wife in Chesterfield. They also own a home in Florida.

  6. I just came across this post. Believe it or not, my name is Sam Zvibleman - named after the Watermelon Man - my great-grandfather. My Dad has always told me about working at Sam's watermelon stand as a boy, and we even have a great framed photo of Sam with Bob Hope in our living room. I would greatly appreciate any more anecdotes about Sam, if you have any... Thanks!

  7. I just Googled Sam the Watermelon Man, and this blog popped up. My Family used to go down on Natural Bridge and have a slice of watermelon during the weekends when I was a kid. The above post about the picture with Bob Hope jogged my memory as I remember seeing that hanging up when we bought watermelon slices.

  8. I grew up on Roosevelt Place just north of Hamilton in the 1940s and my dad would drive over to Sam's on Natural Bridge to bring watermelons home. There also was a barbecue place there my dad would bring home for Saturday night dinners. In 1954 we moved to Pagedale and Natural Bridge became an even bigger part of our lives, though living on Roosevelt and Living in Pagedale was like moving from one planet to another. Our brand new house in Pagedale today looks exactly as it die in 1954; in fact the whole subdivision still looks new. Roosevelt looks like Berlin after the War. Sad.

    1. Wish we had met there. I remember the barbecue place, there was a place called The White House?

    2. I think it was Sam's White Front and it may have been the same Sam.

  9. Linda, I came across this post because I was looking for Sam the Watermelon Man. As I did a search and found it.

    I have told our sons stories about it. There are very few people I know who remembered or lived in that area.

    My Mom, Dad and sister are gone now as are most of my relatives that lived there so I’m so grateful for your article.

    It was like you described it, exactly as I remembered it. We could never do anything like that today because of all the health department restrictions; I’m so grateful we were able to experience it then!

    I was born and raised in an apartment on Labadie across from the Public School Stadium.