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Worldwide Ace » The Grape Harvest

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The Grape Harvest

27 September, 2012 (09:07) | Family

My fingertips blush deep velvet, imbued with an inky essence that seeps into the dark depths of my wrinkled skin. There’s a sunset painted across my cuticles, plums fade into indigo, stretching upward into the aching heavens that are my hands.

It seems for eons that I’ve plucked, pruned, cleaved and cut, pitted, peeled, skinned, and crushed the tiny balls so elegantly looped and dangling from vines twined about themselves. Gone is the picturesque reverie, that urban ideal of country life, so often offered as a distant dirt-filled retirement. These unrealistic dreams have been replaced with loathing, a fear that pure physical labor can be quantified in such minimal produce. Three days of toil result in the proper preparation of a mere 20 lbs of amethyst-hued mash at a cost of aching joints, raw flesh, and a shivering timbre that echoes through me.

Only in the moments of respite, as the music held taught to my head fades and my twisted spine relaxes upright once more, do I notice the worn drip of fatigue settle. The toil itself is mindless, allowing my thoughts to bounce and flit exploring well-worn territory that seems novel in my ignorance. The rhythm of the work wraps around me like a warm blanket, shirking the cold damp that engulfs my icy tentacles as I pop and cull our recently plucked crop. It’s a saving grace, a means of ignorance and avoidance that only work can bring. Yet in those times between, it’s the work itself I desire to leave behind.

My father regularly exclaims his wonder at the entire thing, that these spindly twigs, hard, cold, and brittle, could burst verdantly forth as the wintery whites fade. As buds spring anew, so does his awe, flush and full until all that is left are skeletal sprigs once more. Logically, I understand his amazement, but I don’t feel the same visceral pull. The world functions, the mysteries of life not truly mysterious but merely unknown and awaiting understanding.

“Such is the way,” I tell him, but my koanical words slip past unnoticed.

My mother is much more grounded, her dreams not of the natural order, the emeralds and ambers, the ruddy browns and vibrant violets, but rather the myriad products possible. Her excitement is tempered by the weight and mass of grapes flooding every available crevice of the kitchen, overflowing from the fridge into every container we can find. For every filling and jam, salsa and juice, there is the question of time, toil and territory. The cost of the process perhaps greater than the result.

I feel her burden and alleviate what I can, cooking and peeling, investigating options. It’s but a small dent in the slowly fermenting crop that overwhelms us. Her face softens as she thinks about days lost to errant efforts.

“Such is the way,” I tell her. She nods knowingly, and continues on the path we’re following.

I glower, well aware that my emotions are pushed forward, my willpower tested as the fast ticks by slowly. It’s been years since I practiced, the letters foreign and slow to form into sounds in my head. The meanings are lost, the gist vaguely familiar, and an eerie sense of out-of-place wonder remains in the murky web of thought dangling just out of reach in the corners of my mind. A little food, or a blackened jolt of liquid energy, might sweep them away, but my stubborn resolve can hardly be placated.

The wafting scent of grape pie fills the air, tempting and taunting me. Just beneath the sugar-coated surface, though, is the rich saccharine tartness that hangs throughout the arched vineyard in our backyard. The aroma elicits images of childhood jars emblazoned with Tom & Jerry and the Welch’s logo, thick with concordian conserve. It rests heavy, permeating pores and seeping into every nook and cranny of my nose.

The first day, I was amused by the tang. I wore it as a perfume unbidden, the vine-shaped clerks spritzing me in a guerrilla campaign as I passed. The second day, it became less of a fragrance. I became one with it, the occasional whiff a reminder that I’d become coopted by nature and possessed by the vine, my self lost within the tangled veins pulsating with fruit. By the third day, the aroma hung on me like a stench, scrubbed beneath suds like MacBethian spots, linked to my very being invisibly and hanging upon me like a disease.

There’s naught to do but wait and assist, my work interrupted in preparation for guests. In many ways, what little work I do is antithetical to my purpose, clutter once sorter returns to the nooks so recently cleared in an effort to hide the turmoil in which we’re living. It’s at once a glowing show of respect for our guests and a damning proof of shame for ourselves. Combined with the purple putrescence that mires the house and my tangible aching desire, I can only swallow the well of unreasonable rage pooling inside the emptiness within.

I can feel the seven stages of grief passing by with each minute. I reach acceptance only an hour or two before our guests arrive. They filter in, the grape pie melding in the air with rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, and pepper, an aromatic mural of the meal the come. I rub my fingers habitually, though their color is natural and their scent of soaps and cleanliness. The meal flows past, words spewing out from all directions as we gab between gulps, vacuuming up the fare in front. Finally, as food dwindles and our stomachs distend in pure placation, the pie appears, its crumbly crust sagging around the violet clumps of our now syrupy harvest.

As I fill my gut with the fruits of our labor, my body goes to war. The aroma, now left days behind, is flowing through me, but the flavor so softly sates my desire, so amply punctuates the hours of patience, I’m left to scarf rather than linger. It slides down my gullet unopposed, the repugnant memories slipping away, replaced by a titillating zing mixed with mild awe. The sour notes of labor that so recently stretched toward eternity in the corridors of my mind compress like an accordion squeezing harmonious value from every spent hour.

In the moment, the work seems worth it. With each bite, the grape harvest tastes ever sweeter.

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