My mother would have been 83 today. It’s been four years since she passed, and this is the fourth year I’ve spent the day thinking about her on her special day. But for some special reason, this year the day seems like an important day of celebration.
When we moved into this house in 1996 I was taking on the responsibility of taking care of a yard that had been pampered by a woman who could garden like no one else I’d ever known. The pressure was enormous, but I did my best. When my mother would visit, she would instantly request that we go outside and walk around in the backyard. We’d spend hours back there talking. I’d eventually gather a couple of garden chairs for us to sit on. She loved just being back there and taking it all in – the flowers, the birds, the incredible flora. We’d drink wine and catch up on everything.
In 2000, I decided to do something special for Mom. I built an arbor and a bench – by hand. I designed it, cut the wood, nailed it together, and gave it a sloppy paint job. I positioned it in the shadiest part of the yard. Then I got the bright idea of planting wine grapes on either side of it – the idea being that grapes would grow up this thing, and Mom and I could sit there, drinking wine, eating fresh grapes. My mother was ecstatic.
Obviously I didn’t know much about growing grapes. Grapes need sun, and in this area, they got little to none of that. So every year the vines would grow, but never produce a single grape. Then, in April of ’04 we lost Mom. I’d all but forgotten about the grapes, the bench, the arbor. I neglected it. I no longer cared if it died, blew away or burned down.
Then, in July of that year, the grapes finally arrived. What luck. They were beautiful. I would check them weekly, taste one, and prepare for the day we could finally harvest them and begin to enjoy Mom’s grapes. Around the beginning of August, I got this romantic notion that on Mom’s birthday, my wife and I would go back there, open a bottle of Chardonnay in Mom’s honor, and eat the grapes Mom never got a chance to.
Two days before her birthday, I walked to the arbor to check on the grapes. They were gone. Every single grape had been plucked clean off their vines. Those squirrels. It had to be the tree squirrels that had made our backyard their home. I was livid. Of all the rotten luck in the world. This was something I was really looking forward to doing – to celebrate Mom’s first birthday away from us. I let it go. It just wasn’t meant to be.
The grapes never returned. Every year, I’d hope they’d grow, but nothing ever produced – until this year. The grapes grew in clusters. The vines were opulent. The grapes grew fast, and in large quantities. I protected the clusters with netting, and kept the watering schedule tight. By the beginning of August, things were looking good. The grapes were getting sweet. This was going to be the year.
And so it was. Today, I finally harvested grapes from Mom’s vines – and what great timing too. We move from this house in 1 week. I can’t help but think that Mom had something to do with this. The grapes are rich, delicious, and as sweet as I’ve ever tasted. A bottle of Chardonnay is chilling as I type this, in Mom’s honor.
Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you, and I miss you.