Three of my favorite Twain sentences, summing up one of the joys of artfulness in summer—a prose poem, really:
I know how a prize watermelon looks when it is sunning its fat rotundity among pumpkin vines and “simblins”; I know how to tell when it is ripe without “plugging” it; I know how inviting it looks when it is cooling itself in a tub of water under the bed, waiting; I know how it looks when it lies on the table in the sheltered great floor space between house and kitchen, and the children gathered for the sacrifice and their mouths watering; I know the crackling sound it makes when the carving knife enters its end, and I can see the split fly along in front if the blade as the knife cleaves its way to the other end; I can see its halves fall apart and display the rich red meat and the black seeds, and the heart standing up, a luxury fit for the elect; I know how a boy looks behind a yard-long slice of that melon, and I know how he feels; for I have been there. I know the taste of the watermelon which has been honestly come by, and I know the taste of the watermelon which has been acquired by art. Both taste good, but the experienced know which tastes best.
—Mark Twain’s Autobiography (Charles Neider edition, Chapter 4)
I’ve loved this from the moment I first read it, even though it contains a word—simblins—that I’ve never understood. Dictionaries (unabridged and slang), Google searches, and emailed queries to friends who grew up in Twain country have produced no answers. Twain places the word in quotes, which somehow makes it more mysterious. Are there simblins clinging to the mud today in the brown floodwaters between Twain’s Hannibal and Chuck Berry’s St. Louis?