There’s nothing like Mother’s Day to remind you of all the behaviors and traditions—loved or dreaded—instilled in you by your mother. As defined, a “tradition” is the transmission of customs and or beliefs from generation to generation, but here’s the funny thing about traditions: You don't always know that they are being passed on.
It’s only years later, when you’re re-telling a childhood story, and someone interrupts, asking you to explain what, exactly, a watermelon whale melon ball salad is. I now know that not everyone grew up with a melon-balling mom.
My mom went to a Tupperware party in her late 20s, bought a melon baller, and never looked back. Because why serve irregularly cut strips of melon when you could present a culinary creation? If we were eating honeydew or cantaloupe, it was round, served in a big blue glass bowl, cold from being in the fridge.
Looking back, I understand that my mom does and always has derived a lot of satisfaction from caring for the details. I can’t actually remember a time, even when it was just her and I, that we ate dinner off plastic, even if she did succumb to McDonald’s takeout. We used her nice wedding China for big and small celebrations—be it a birthday or a basketball victory.
Even in the act of getting ready, my mom pays attention to the details. Growing up before any event, I would always find her applying makeup while listening to CNN. One day, I asked her why CNN, why not Guiding Light or Frasier?
I can remember her response just as clearly as if she said it to me yesterday. “Meghan, it’s very important when going to any event that you have five points of conversation outside of your own life to talk about.” Even the details surrounding the art of conversation are not lost on her.
It was when I returned from college at 21 that I was most astounded by her attention to decor detail and thoughtfulness. She had moved from the house where I grew up into a much smaller townhouse. I sidestepped boxes in an entirely foreign yellowish colored living room to make my way upstairs to my new room.
Expecting to see a stranger’s room that I was now meant to call my own, I opened the door to discover it was the exact same sky blue I knew and loved in our previous home—it was the only room my mom had pre-painted. Beyond the paint, the bedroom was in nearly the exact same state that I had left my high school room. My cork board was hanging entirely intact, with not a single concert ticket, Italian postcard from my sister, or photo booth strip amiss. Despite the craziness of moving out of a house she had lived in for two decades, she kept every detail of my childhood in tact.
The tradition of caring about the details was transmitted loud and clear. Today, I find the most joy in the small things, be it setting the table to eat even if by myself or laying out the towels in the guest room. I can only hope I use this care to impact other’s lives in the generous and considerate way that my mom does with the utmost success.
But most importantly, I think it’s essential that I pass onto you the summer tradition of a watermelon whale melon ball salad—try not to skip any of the details.
photography by MEGHAN MCNEER
Patty’s On the Lookout For a Cookout Melon Ball Masterpiece
There are several great things about this salad. It carries itself. It’s a conversation starter. And it’s all edible.
1 whole watermelon
1 ripe cantaloupe, baled ("To test the ripeness of cantaloupe, you scratch the stem end with your nail and smell," says Patty. "If it smells ripe, you will know. Try several and see the difference.")
1 honeydew, balled
Directions, straight from Patty:
You draw on the watermelon first with a black sharpie to outline where to carve. Use a serrated knife to cut along your line. Cut and or ball the watermelon inside and carve out the rest with a large spoon. You have to be careful not to make the tail too thin or it won’t hold up the fins.
Cut a blow hole if you want and put a sprig of parsley as the water spout. Cut eyes or make them with some other berry.
Melon ball several varieties of fruit; I use watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew. Honey would be nice and healthy addition to make it sweet.
The mixture of colors is what is appealing in a fruit bowl. Red watermelon, orange cantaloupe, green grapes or honeydew. Strawberries and blueberries with whipped cream are great for the Fourth of July.
More summer recipes:
20 Recipes You Can Make In a Slow Cooker This Summer
12 Scandinavian Dishes You’ll Want to Make All Summer
The Best One-Pan Recipes We're Making This Week