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Alameda & Cheaney Community Watermelon Thieves Beware
Farmer Smith Unleashes Secret Weapon
By Jeff Clark

'Seems like much of the excitement in the Alameda - Cheaney Community goes on around midnight. Charles Sullivan remembers sneaking with his friends into a neighbor's watermelon patch as a boy. Sullivan's family had their own plot of watermelons near the house, but there's something about "borrowing" a watermelon that just makes it taste better somehow.

The important thing to know about the Smith place in the forties was that a big mean dog named Nickel lived there. Fortunately for the boys, Nickel was asleep that night. If you've never been in the Alameda - Cheaney area in the middle of the night, it is as quiet as a tomb. This evening was no different.

The friends crouched low and crept toward the Smith's watermelon patch through the moonlit peanut rows. The place was dead quiet. 'No lights in the windows. 'No sign that Nickel was awake. Taking a watermelon or two that night would be like snatching candy from a baby. They had to feel like master criminals - their plot coming together so seamlessly. The boys inched quietly forward toward their prize, confident of their reward.

The Smith watermelons were planted in sandy soil. If you could get the crop some water in that sand they would bear with abandon. That year was good - there were plenty to choose from. The boys narrowed in on the target of their quest with quiet delight.

Suddenly, across the field toward the Smith house - out of the stillness of the night they heard a piercing shrill voice shriek, "sick 'em Nickel!" The boys heard this alarm as if it were a thunderous message from on high. They took off running as fast as their young legs would carry them. Nickel awoke to the alarm and gave chase, his ravenous barks punctuating the night silence.

It turns out that Mr. Smith had a parrot out on the porch and when the bird saw the boys sneaking in, he sounded the alarm. The parrot's quiet gaze had detected movement in the moonlit watermelon patch and alerted his trusty sidekick Nickel to go in for the kill. "Sick 'em Nickel!" Who could have anticipated a watchful, loyal parrot standing guard in rural Eastland County? The boys somehow managed to get away.

Young Charles Sullivan passed Mr. Smith on the road the next day. "How'd you like my guard parrot?" Smith asked, laughing at the success of his failsafe alarm system.

* * *

Charles Sullivan's family moved to the old DeShazo Place northeast of Cheaney in 1939 from Hardeman County and later Abilene. There was a section foreman's house for the Jake Hamon Railway not far from their place. Their farm had an eighty foot well full of cool clear water. Those hot summers he would sometimes bury a watermelon or two (off his family's place this time) and offer one to the railroad workers. Kids in the area can remember hearing the Jake Hamon's engine whistle announcing its passing as one of the most exciting events in those quiet days, running to the tracks or fence rows to wave as it passed.

Those sand-cooled watermelons and the chilled well water cemented a friendship between the workers and Sullivan. He hoped to get free rides on the train but it was explained that it was strictly against the rules. Neighboring Griffith girls were offered train rides from a different set of rules, though they declined in fear of their father's certain wrath.

Mr. Sullivan lived on this place for a while, then in a big nice home on the Dean Place with high ceilings just south of the two Cheaney churches (and across the road from the Strickler blacksmith shop). The Sullivans farmed a little cotton, but mostly peanuts. They also did some "row cropping", taking produce into Ranger to sell in a Model A. His daddy was a cattle trader as well, though not as big an operator as Doc Calvert to the southwest near the last Alameda School.

Mr. Sullivan talked about having a plum job at the Alameda School for $10 - $12 a day (big money back then) for cleaning typewriters and other little chores that came up. It was a job funded by the government to get money back into the community. Times were hard. He remembers one day being asked to get rid of all the old leather football helmets in the old bus barn when they were cleaning up. What treasures they would make today.

Most of my visits with Alameda exes eventually wind up with a tale about how a teacher changed their life. Mr. Sullivan told me about Alameda teacher J. W. Turner. Turner was a positive influence on the lives of many in the community as a teacher. Often, you would see him sharing words of encouragement with kids when they were down or needed a little nudge. He helped develop those kids into the fine people that they later matured into.

Sullivan's family moved to the Cheaney community in 1939, staying ten years. He graduated from Alameda High School and went to Ranger College before joining the service and then attending Abilene Christian. He later worked as a butcher in his dad's grocery store. Charles Sullivan became a recognized banker and completed a distinguished insurance career. He was even elected mayor of Weatherford in 1956, beating the incumbent in spite of only having moved to town a few years before. Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan have been happily married for sixty-three years. He continues to be active in the lives of his community and in touch with his friends from his Eastland County boyhood. 'Not bad for an Eastland County boy off a sandy peanut farm.

Jeff Clark - Jdclark3312@aol.com


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