Saturday, September 01, 2007
When I was growing up there was a definite progression of events that let us know the Summer was ending and soon it would be time to go back to school. My Grandmother's birthday was the first, happening at the tipping point of Summer; after that day, Summer didn't feel like Summer anymore, it felt like a race towards September. After that there was our church bazaar, which until 2005 was held every year the first weekend in August. It was a last grab at Summer but was held in the parking lot that served as our playground at school, a cruel warning to the kids there to enjoy what little time remained to them. And then there was the ripening of the grapes.
My grandmother had three different types of grapes in her back yard. Directly behind the house was a long arbor that had white grapes on the north side, red "spice" grapes on the south side, and purple grapes in the middle. In the back of the lot there were more purple grapes on a smaller arbor.
My grandmother last lived in her house in 1992. For the next fourteen years my uncle took over management of the property and served as landlord to the tenants who rented the other side of the house.
The grapes, which had been a part of this property since long before my grandparents bought the property, did not fare well during those fourteen years. Parts of the arbor were torn down or allowed to decay. The grapes went without pruning and developed serious diseases. The red grapes, long my favorite, died out entirely - or were killed off.
When I bought the house I made the restoration of the grapevines a top priority: I strung wire up over the old posts where the wooden braces of the arbor had been. I purchased some new red grapes which, according to the catalog description, sound a lot like the ones I remember. I pruned the hell out of the remaining vines. And I began a ruthless program of spraying to control Black Rot.
As far as I can tell I was successful. Where last year I lost nearly 100% of the grapes to Black Rot, this year losses have been kept to 50% or less. I have been eating the grapes for about the last two weeks and I can say that, even in a not-quite-ripe stage, they are as delicious as I remember them.
I think I've pulled these grapes back from the brink. Something was very nearly lost which should not be lost. And maybe someday in the future the ripening of these grapes will signal to some other kids that Summer is over and it's time to go back to school.