I’ve been fascinated about the tradition of the ‘last meal’ ever since I stumbled across photographs by Henry Hargreaves recreating the last meals of death row serial killers in his series ‘No Seconds’. It’s a curious question – what would you choose as your very last meal on earth?
While mulling it over, the image of watermelon floated into my mind. This surprised me because bittersweet chocolate is my true love, and peanut butter when I’m not too highbrow to admit it. So why did my subconscious dig up watermelon?
I like watermelon – a lot – I love the luscious red flesh scattered with shiny black seeds, the clean cut of white rind against bright green skin. I love the chilly crunch of it straight from the fridge on a stinking hot day.
But would I really choose watermelon as my very last meal? Wouldn’t I want to make a ‘statement’ of some kind?
Most of the inmates selected by Hargreaves chose ‘comfort food’, including Ted Bundy, who declined a special dish sticking with the traditional last meal of steak, eggs and hash browns. But one request struck my imagination. Victor Feguer, executed in 1963 for kidnap and murder, requested a single olive with its pit. One interpretation posits that Feguer wanted the olive inside him to grow into a tree; he’d leave behind something beautiful, a symbol of peace.
Has watermelon some hidden symbolic meaning for me?
A cursory look at its history offered interesting tidbits. Watermelon seeds and paintings were found in Egyptian tombs, including Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s, perhaps to provide water for the journey to the afterlife; while Mark Twain famously declared, “When one has eaten watermelon, he knows what the angels eat”.
Obviously I’m chuffed that I’d be in the company of angels supping on this fruit, but what’s personal here for me?
Looking again at ‘No Seconds’, there’s an ache of something very human and touching in the photos despite the terrible catalogue of crimes. Perhaps each choice evoked a private memory of a time and place that was precious to the inmate?
Suddenly I pin the image of watermelon to my childhood, when I was a skinny, freckly eleven-year-old kid beginning a new life in subtropical Queensland.
The air is sticky-humid. I’m barefoot and sunburned hanging out with my brother and sister on a sandy stretch of the Noosa River. I’m looking back to our old wooden Queenslander, a house on stilts with a big veranda. Mum’s calling us. We hurl ourselves from stillness into motion and head home. Mum’s down in the yard cutting big chunks of bright red watermelon. It looks so cool and sweet, so exotic to our southern eyes. Thirsty and hot, we gorge ourselves stupid. And we end this most magnificent feast by having fights with the green rind. To this day I only ever eat watermelon when summer hits.
- Photo: Sliced Watermelon_HarshaKR_Creative Commons_Attribution 0.2
- Photo: Male Flower_Roberto94_Creative Commons_Attribution 3.0
- Photo: Watermelons_Steve Evens_Creative Commons_Attribution 0.2
- photo: My Last Meal_Thanks for all the Love_Polly Watkins
For the curious: http://www.henryhargreaves.com