It was the summer of 1958, and ten-year old Phoebe Taylor sat in the rocking chair in her room and cried. Her mother had scolded her for something she didn't do. She tried telling Mama that she didn't steal the watermelon that was mysteriously sitting on the back porch. Mama said no one else could have put it there, given the fact that no one within ten miles even owned a car, and the closest neighbor was five miles away.
That old watermelon didn't just show up by itself, and Phoebe thought it must have come from the patch a mile from their old farm. She decided it was time to play detective and find out just who put it there. Mama had to know the truth.
Phoebe noticed tracks leading from her house down the dirt road. She followed the tracks for at least a mile, then suddenly the tracks disappeared. They led to off to the right side as if someone had turned and walked into the watermelon patch.
Someone else had certainly been around. Who could it be? Phoebe determined to find out and show Mama she was telling the truth. She walked through the patch looking for clues, and came upon an open space of a burned out camp fire. Next to the ashes were some chicken bones. Someone had camped out in the watermelon patch! This was getting curious.
That night Phoebe sneaked out of the house after Mama had gone to bed. She returned to the watermelon field and noticed smoke coming from the same place she had seen the campfire. Getting down on all fours she crawled on the ground, careful not to make a sound. Upon reaching the site she saw a boy about her age sleeping on the ground.
“Hey! What are you doing here?” The startled boy jumped up and started to scamper away.
“Wait! Come back! Just tell me why you are sleeping out here.”
The boy slowly came back and sat down on the ground. He grunted at Phoebe and began talking with his hands. Phoebe understood sign language because her cousin was deaf. The boy indicated to her that he was a runaway from his abusive uncle.
“Can you hear? What is your name?” Phoebe signed to him.
The boy grunted, nodded and signed out that his name was Sam Pittman. The Pittman family lived five miles away. Mama called them lowlife, and said she'd heard of Mr. Pittman taking in his illegitimate nephew when the poor child's mother committed suicide.
There was great fear in Sam's eyes, and he started to cry. Phoebe sat down beside him and began talking to him with her voice, telling him she understood sign language.
“Did you put a watermelon on my back porch today?”
Sam nodded and looked ashamed.
“I stole a chicken from you.” Sam signed to her.
“So you were paying us back for the chicken? You should have knocked on the door. Mama would have given you all the food you wanted. She never lets anyone go hungry.”
Sam replied he was afraid she would have taken him back to his uncle. He showed Phoebe the black and blue marks on his legs and arms. Phoebe understood now.
“Come home with me. Mama won't send you back to someone who beats you. I need for Mama to hear it from you about how you put that watermelon on the back porch. She thinks it was me.”
So Sam went home with Phoebe that night. They woke Mama and told her the story. Phoebe showed Mama the bruises on Sam's body, and Sam signed to Mama that he had stolen a chicken and wanted to pay her back with the watermelon.
Mama called the sheriff right then and there. Old Sheriff Peacock came out there in the middle of the night, and when he saw Sam's black and blue marks, he cried. He went straight to Sam's uncle and arrested him for assault on a child.
Phoebe now has an adopted brother named Sam. He works hard and yields an abundant vegetable crop every year. Mama taught him to read and write in Braille and he is a fine, loving, son.
Life is good on the Taylor farm. Once in a while, Phoebe smiles and reminds Sam about the watermelon on the porch, and he thanks her for making him come and tell Mama the truth.
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