I’m currently in the middle of a book called American Gods in which Neil Gaiman spins a tale of gods of the old world going to war against the gods of the new world and a poor guy caught in the middle of it all. One of the gods that our poor guy meets up with is a guy named Apple Johnny, which bears more than a striking resemblance to Johnny Appleseed. It eventually turns out that it is Johnny Appleseed. He’s a folk hero and, if I understand Gaiman’s mythology correctly, folk heroes are kind of like demigods. At the mention of “Apple Johnny,” I couldn’t help but think of a similar folk hero from my homeland of Canada. Of course, not a lot of people know about this person, but he is quite well known in my neck of the woods. So please, let me tell you about one of Canada’s forgotten folk heroes. Just sit back, and let me tell you about Markie Watermelonseed.
Now, Markie was always a bit of an unusual guy. He was born out on Canada’s east coast around the start of the 1808. As a boy, he would spend many a night outside, just staring up at the stars. People would ask him what he was looking at, and he’d just say, “The holes in the roof.” People would ask, “What holes?” and Markie would point up to the stars and say, “Well, right there. Can’t you see them? The sun is shining through them.” Around his teen years, when all of the other young men in his village were lining up for their poke at Kara Shepple (who’s a legend for all the wrong reasons), Markie would take a bucket of roofing tar, get the tallest step ladder he could, and climb to the top of it. When asked why he was doing this, Markie would just say, “I’ve got to fix those holes in the roof!” It was on one of those evenings, when Markie was in his early 20s, when it happened.
Markie was on top of his step ladder, reaching high with his brush, when he lost his footing. He tumbled to the ground, and the bucket of roofing tar hit him on the head. It was here, as he lay unconscious and covered with tar, that he had a vision. The vision was described as visions of green and black, and he heard a single word: “Watermelons.” Markie was convinced that it was a sign from God. It was a divine inspiration! He was to spread across this great land and plant watermelons! Never mind that the northern wilds of what was to become Canada wasn’t really the right place to grow watermelons. He was on a mission from God.
(Of course, historians would later argue that the visions of green and black were actually brought on by a mild concussion, and that Markie had not heard the word “Watermelons,” but in fact, “Wow! What melons!” which is what most men would exclaim whenever Kara Shepple removed her shirt.)
But Markie was set in his ways. He moved out of his parents’ basement in his small Newfoundland village and set out to spread watermelons. First, he knew he’d need some watermelon seeds. So he set out down south to warmer climates. He set sail for Cape Breton Island. His quest for watermelon seeds didn’t go so well in the colony of Nova Scotia. It turned out that he didn’t quite go far south enough for watermelon seeds. But, since he knew he was destined to spread watermelon seeds across the King’s land, he didn’t feel right about straying farther south to the Yankees and their “states.” Everyone knew that those Yankees were a meddlesome lot, what with their war for independence and wanting to be free from a tyrannical leader who lived far away and all that. The people in these northern colonies were quite happy to be ruled from so far away. It freed them up to pursue more frivolous things, like trying to grow watermelons. At long last, Markie was able to find his watermelon seeds on a ship that had just came in. Markie was set for life in watermelon seeds, and all it cost him was his innocence to a 7 foot tall sailor named “Lance.” Changing his name to Markie Watermelonseed, Markie headed west with a satchel full of seeds and a more open mind towards alternative lifestyles.
On his great march west, Markie soon came to Lower Canada, what we now call Quebec. Markie came to the growing city of Montreal, and was taken in by some kind missionaries when he shared his vision with God. Of course, between the French and Markie’s thick Newfoundland accent, the language barrier was quite strong. Markie was sleeping one night, when the door open, and in came Sister Mary Lillith. Sister Mary Lillith was the unlucky nun who drew janitorial duty that night, and, thinking that Markie was out planting watermelons, had come in to clean. When she saw Markie sleeping there, she exclaimed something in French. Some argue that she said, “Oh my God! I have seen the thing that I do not want to see again, but I am curiously drawn to it!” Others say she exclaimed, “So that’s what I’m missing being dedicated to God and all that.” No one knows exactly what she said, but is what known is that, the next morning, she and Markie were discovered playing a game of naked robber. Naturally, the nuns were shocked at this ultimate violation of their order. It clearly says, in Amos 12:22, that in the game of naked robber, women shall never be made to wear the toque. And there was Sister Mary Lillith, wearing the toque. Ripples of anger were spread throughout Lower Canada as it was heard that, in a friendly game of naked robber, a woman had been made to wear the toque. Markie barely got of Lower Canada with his cowboy boots, which is the traditional garb of women playing naked robber. In fact, to this very day, the people of Quebec can still be heard saying, “Je me souviene,” which means “I remember.” Most will tell you it means, “I remember when the people of Quebec were free,” but what it really means, “I remember that nut with the watermelons, and that’s why we’re leaving the country.”
From here, Markie escaped to Upper Canada, destined to be Ontario. Here, Markie new that maybe it would be time to change his watermelon growing tactics. All he needed was a little more water. They were called “water-melons,” after all. So, Markie grabbed a shovel and started digging an irrigation ditch. He dug with gusto. After digging for damn near half an hour, he decided that there must be an easier way. He went to some of the local merchants, and started getting some dynamite. When he got all the dynamite, he began stocking gunpowder. When he had gotten for himself a collection of all the high-powered explosives he could get his hands on, he began planting them in the ground, hoping to just blow an irrigation ditch into the ground. But, he had gotten a few too many sticks of dynamite, and when he pressed the detonator, the shockwave threw him clear across the rest of Ontario and he came crashing down near the western edge of Manitoba. As for his irrigation ditch, well, he was successful. We now know his ditch as Niagara Falls.
Markie wound up in Saskatchewan. Yup, Saskatchewan. He planted some seeds, and then, seeing nothing really interesting in Saskatchewan, moved on.
And as he moved all across the territories that would become western Canada, he left in his wake a trail of watermelon seeds. Markie had grand visions of feeding the entire country with watermelons. People would never need to go hungry! They could have toasted crunchy watermelon flakes for breakfast! Watermelon butter and watermelon jelly sandwiches for lunch! Feast on roast watermelon for dinner, with watermelon pie for dessert! Of course, Markie was completely blind to the fact that watermelons don’t grow so well in Canada, so all he left behind was barren patches of land full of watermelon seeds. Some say he was crazy. Some say that bucket of tar did a lot of damage. Some say that he was just a Newfoundlander. But, most could agree on one thing. He did not know how to play naked robber.
Soon, Markie crossed into the mighty province that would be known as Alberta. One of the first settlements he came across was a small town called Vegerville. Vegerville was in the midst of a famine. People were starving in the streets. It was here that Markie knew why God had sent him. So, Markie planted his seeds, and, lo and behold, watermelons sprouted! The world’s largest crop of watermelons grew, and the people feasted on watermelons as though they had never feasted before! In tribute to Markie, they erected a giant watermelon, but, over time, vandals repainted it and turned it into an Easter egg. Or, at least, this is what my Uncle Rob would tell me after he had a couple of beers and a few glasses of his home brew.
But Alberta was province very kind to Markie. People didn’t scorn him, or his mission. They let him plant his watermelon seeds, and then he’d move on. One time, while Markie was planting his seeds, something odd would happen. As soon as he placed a seed in the ground, it would pop right back out! Markie would put the seed back in the ground, and again, it would pop out of the ground. The third time Markie tried this, the watermelon seed shot 20 feet into the air, propelled by a strange, black goo. Markie soon ran into a Mr. Elias Husky, who told him that the black goo was something called oil. Mr. Husky bought that oil-rich land from Markie, and soon gave birth to one of Canada’s greatest oil companies: Uncle Elias’s Liquid Lube. It was one of Canada’s greatest oil companies, but not one of its longest lasting.
Also while in Alberta, Markie came to a small settlement called Kingman, in which he came across one of the most bizarre sights he had ever seen. He came across two people. One was a feisty woman with long red hair, and the other was a man of effeminate qualities and short purple hair. They both wore white overalls with a large red “R” on the front. Their only companion was a talking animal that resembled a cat. The purple-haired one carried a rat thing under his arm, and the rat thing was protesting:
Ratsputin>> How many time do I have to tell you? I’m not a pokémon! We’ve been going in circles like this for years now! I just want to go home! I just want to go back to having ol’ whatshisname write his comic strip about me. Please just let me go!
Jessie>> Quiet, you! Once we get you back to the boss, we can finally retire and head south!
James>> I hope it’s some place like Cape Breton Island, where I can finally live my alternative lifestyle in peace.
Markie watched them as they walked over the horizon, and shrugged this off. Surely, he thought, that must have been some kind of in-joke that he will never get.
At long last, Markie got as far west as he could, to the colonies that would become British Columbia, and he settled for a while in the still-new city of Vancouver. He settled down with a woman named Smith and had a small watermelon patch in the backyard. Trying to adapt his methods to his new home, Markie began developing a special kind of watermelon herbal tea to sell to the natives. But, when the civic leaders of Vancouver sampled this blend, they deemed it to be “disruptive of their auras” and “bad karma for the whole universe.” So, before any unmentionable things could be done to him, Markie skipped town in the middle of the night, and his beloved wife Ms. Smith stayed behind to smooth things out. The people of Vancouver took pity on Ms. Smith. Obviously, Markie was an evil man who had her under some sort of enchantment. So, after they performed the counter-spell on Ms. Smith (which involved sitting around inhaling mood-altering drugs), she was accepted as one of their own. Ms. Smith was granted the new name of “Daisyblossom Morningstar” and was given the body piercings and tattoos that mark all citizens of British Columbia. But, Daisyblossom Morningstar still pined for her one true love, and it is said that on some Vancouver evenings, you can still glimpse a pierced and tattooed woman wandering the streets looking for her Mr. Watermelon.
Markie Watermelonseed soon headed up north, and once again tried to settle down above the Arctic Circle. He soon came to a small town in the Yukon, which was surprisingly tropical for being so far north. Here, Markie settled down, and he started a thriving watermelon farm. For the most part, Markie was finally happy. But, on some cold Arctic evenings, there is something that just bothers Markie. He’ll be out in his fields late at night, tending to his watermelon crop, and he’ll look up. He’ll gaze up at the stars for a while, as thought lost in thought, and then he’ll scream out, “Won’t someone fix those damn holes?” And, in a fit of rage, he’ll begin plucking watermelons from his fields and hurling them towards the heavens. But of course, those watermelons always miss their targets. They don’t plug those holes in the ceiling. Instead, they explode against the roof, and scatter watermelon rind all across the heavens.
So, next time you’re in Canada, and it’s a cold winter night, and you towards the northern sky, you just might see the watermelon rind scattered across heavens. Nowadays, most of us call them the Northern Lights. But when I look at them, I can’t help but think of my namesake, Markie Watermelonseed. And I hope you will to, and raise a glass towards the northern sky and drink a toast to this Canadian hero.