LAURINBURG — Perched in the shade on the tailgate of a pickup truck filled with watermelons and plucking a banjo, Colton Williford personifies summer.
The Western Carolina University student and Sneads Grove native sets out each morning with more than 60 watermelons — grown in the Old Hundred area by a family friend — and sets up shop in parking lots around Laurinburg.
He can be found this weekend outside of Jerry’s Deli, in the Scotland Crossing shopping center near Cookout and Taco Bell, and near Walmart, peddling the fruit whose flesh and nectar compose a summer staple.
“I was parked out at Walmart the season before last for a whole month, then July 3 of last year we started a little early,” he said. “I sold three truckloads in one day.”
Williford sells the melons for $5 apiece to make extra money on summer visits home, advising customers to find him the next day if dissatisfied with their chosen fruit. During lulls in business, he picks up a banjo and plays over the whoosh of highway traffic to keep himself entertained.
He first added the instrument to his repertoire — which also includes the guitar, mandolin, and harmonica — four years ago while a student at Scotland Early College High School. Unable to read music, he taught himself by improvisation and still plays mostly ad lib selections.
“I was out on the Richmond Community College campus all the time and I had people who did not fit the bill for bluegrass at all, people who predominantly listened to rap, come up all the time and ask is that a banjo? Can I try it?” he said. “It’s just the happiest instrument in the world. You can’t help but smile when you’re holding one.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.