from Outside Privies and Dinner Pails, a Living History of Southwest Iowa

The Watermelon Theft

By Dee Zanders of Shenandoah, Iowa

Born 1938

      There is an area northeast of the town of Malvern, Iowa known by the local residents as the "Dutch Settlement". It is, however, German instead of Dutch. Most of the people in that area immigrated from or near the village of Schoenlanke. It was originally a part of Prussia, and is now the Polish city of Trzcianka. Some of the immigrants were related and nearly all of them were farmers. My father, Frank Zanders, was born in 1898 and was raised in that German settlement. He often related stories to his family of how much fun and devilment the boys in that community would get into. One such story always tickled me the most, probably because I knew some of the people in it and could visualize their involvement.

      It seems there was a farmer in the area named George Bannister. The early map of Silver Creek Township places his farm about a quarter mile west of Pleasant Valley School about one mile from the Zanders' Farm. It was common knowledge that George Bannister always had a watermelon patch. It was late summer—the time for the melons to be at their prime. My dad and his cousin, Ralph Donner, whose nickname was Spry, gathered some of the other neighborhood boys at the Pleasant Valley School; they planned on stealing some of Mr. Bannister's melons. Nearly everyone in the local community knew that George kept a loaded gun above his fireplace to ward off people intent on stealing his melons. A plan was devised that Dad and Ralph would go to George's log cabin and keep him occupied while the other boys stole melons. Once the melons were secured and the other boys were safely out of the patch, a signal—one shrill whistle—would let Dad and Ralph know that the mission had been accomplished. The boys set out towards the patch while Dad and Ralph went to Mr. Bannister's cabin. George was home and welcomed the boys' company. The conversation between them was going well. The topics were light and jesting. Everyone was laughing. The time seemed to pass slowly, but after about 20 minutes of visiting and laughing, a shrill whistle pierced the night air. The boys and the melons were safe. Dad and Ralph couldn't restrain their laughter. George's mood changed and his face sobered. As he reached for his gun he said, "Spry Donner, you're here for no good. Somebody's in my melon patch." Out the door he went, gun in hand, but the melons and the boys were already at the schoolhouse, where the feast was to take place. Everyone came out of the incident safe, sound, full of watermelon, and with stories to tell later.

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