The Carytown Watermelon Festival: Avoid at All Costs.


Each year for the past 36 years, the Carytown Watermelon Festival has been a prominent event in every Richmond summer.

Some would even say it’s the most Richmond summertime thing you could do, topped only by “complaining about the heat,” “going to the river,” and “complaining about the heat even though you’re at the river.”

This festival is always on a Sunday and always in the middle of August. On that day Carytown blocks itself off to traffic, and dedicates all of its time, energy, food, and fake smiles to watermelon.

During the weeks leading up to it, all of Carytown’s shops come up with some clever way to incorporate watermelon into their window displays, those watermelon-patterned flags go up on Carytown street lamps, and you can’t go anywhere without seeing Watermelon Festival flyers hanging up.

I too used to get caught up in the hype, eagerly anticipating a whole festival devoted to that classic, delicious summertime fruit.

I would count down the days until the festival with my fellow Richmonders.

And read the flyers every time I saw one, even though I already knew what they said.

And reject any plans that came up in anticipation of spending my entire day eating watermelon.

…Then the day of the festival would arrive. 

And, as with many things in life – like prom, adulthood, any M. Knight Shyamalan movie after Signs, and finally getting a pair of Burkenstocks that your mom refused to buy you because she said they’d make your feet hot but you wanted them anyway so you worked extra hard at your part-time job at Panera to finally be able to afford them on your own – the buildup was way better than the actual event.

Upon arriving at the festival, I would have sudden flashbacks from years past that my brain had apparently managed to mentally block out until that moment.

The heat. The parking. The crowds. The heat. The lines. The pushy vendors. The heat. The loud music. The whiny children. And the heat.

Then I would have the same thought I suddenly remembered having every year prior: WHY (and yeah, this thought was in all caps) IS THERE A FESTIVAL (you know, like, have you ever screamed inside your head?) IN A LOCATION WITH ABSOLUTELY NO SHADE (because Carytown is as unshady as you can get) RIGHT IN (until the sun goes down, that is) THE MIDDLE OF (ha, ha, that has a double meaning because sometimes Carytown gets really weird after dark) A VIRGINIA (get it?) SUMMER. (I never ended this thought scream with a question mark because it was mostly rhetorical.)

The rest of my day at the festival would meld into anxiety, impatience, and a thick layer of moisture on my face that I could never figure out if it was sweat or tears: all trauma that my brain would ultimately shield me from afterward to ensure that I could go on living a healthy, productive life.

Until, of course, the next Watermelon Festival rolled around, where I would begin the countdown and excitement and staring at the watermelon themed window displays and stretching out my belly in anticipation of soon filling it with piles and piles of seedless, juicy watermelon.

The cycle of suffering continued every year. Until the summer of 2013.

I’m not sure if my brain had reached its capacity of trauma-shielding or had decided to teach me a lesson in tough love like a stern Jewish mother, but I finally remembered every bit of this particular Watermelon Festival.

This year I attended it with my mom and my brother. After we finally found (questionably legal) parking, we entered the festival…and almost immediately my head started screaming: WHY IS THERE A FESTIVAL IN A LOCATION (okay, you know the rest) (well, unless you’d like me to repeat my “shady Carytown” joke?) (no?) (okay, fine).

“Well…we’re here…what now?” We all thought silently, because what actually is there to do at a festival?

“I guess let’s get some watermelon,” we all said out loud, because what else actually is there to do at a watermelon festival?

We turned to face the crowd of exhausted Richmonders; I remember weaving through sweaty bodies (or were they covered in tears?) at a rapid pace, as if I were on a CIA mission to save the president (Obama was the president at the time), or a regular shopper in Carytown (ha, ha, that’s a joke about the impatient shoppers in Carytown!). 

Delusional from the heat, I purchased every $1 bowl of sliced seedless watermelon I could find, devouring piece after piece without even tasting it. 

My family tried to keep up with me, but, on a high from the sugar and aggression, I couldn’t be slowed down.

Purchase, swallow, find more watermelon, repeat. Purchase, swallow, find more watermelon, repeat. 

I lost my mom and brother at some point, unintentionally yet inevitably, but I continued my watermelon consuming rampage nonetheless. I’m not even sure if I ever noticed they weren’t behind me.

Purchase, swallow, find more watermelon, repeat. Purchase, swallow, find more watermelon, repeat. 

At some point during the festival, I acquired one of those cutesie watermelon-shaped paper fans, but I have no idea how. Probably from a weaker human, like a child. 

Purchase, swallow, find more watermelon, repeat. Purchase, swallow, find more watermelon, repeat. 

Finally, ignoring the watermelon sweat spewing out of my pores, I stood in front of a jewelry vendor about to buy a watermelon-charmed anklet – and hit a moment of clarity.

I put down the anklet that my delirium had almost inspired me to purchase and found my family. With a belly full of watermelon, I suddenly remembered that I don’t even like watermelon that much. It’s too sweet, and has a weird texture, and even when it’s seedless it sometimes has those chewy white seeds that are actually quite jarring.

I’m not sure if we’d been there for ten minutes or for the entire day, but we all silently agreed that we’d had enough Watermelon Festival for the year, and went back to the car. Hoping someone had remembered where we parked.

Now, every summer when I start to see watermelon-themed flyers and flags and window displays, my head is no longer filled with thoughts of pink cupcakes, juicy melon, smiles, sunglasses, face paint, upbeat music, and carefree happiness. 

Instead, my thoughts are overtaken by this blaring warning that says AVOID AT ALL COSTS IN FACT MAYBE JUST MOVE TO A DIFFERENT STATE.

Which my Jewish mother brain has finally allowed me to realize…is for the best.

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