Vines

Jn. 15:1-8

Last weekend, I bought a grapevine, a spindly slip of a thing. Its life and energy lie in its root. It has a culture, a history, a genealogy. It is the product of grafting and selection that goes back hundreds of years.

As I worked with the vine, I thought back to the ’30s and ’40s, when I lived in Illinois. We had a grape arbor, which was planted by our neighbor, who had immigrated from Austria in the early 1900s. My father pruned and shaped the vines, and they grew up and around the trellises and the frame of our arbor house. There were lattice walls and pew-like benches where you could sit in the shade.

Initially, the structure supported the vine, but eventually the vines supported the structure; and it became difficult to distinguish the skeleton of the trellises, wrapped within the body of the growth of the vines.

As a child, I would climb on the the roof, which easily supported my weight, for the tentacles of the vines held it secure. I discovered that there was life in this arbor: bees and spiders, ants, all sorts of insects. It was there that I met my first snake - sleek, multi-colored, and glistening.

On weekends my Methodist grandmother, Lutheran aunts, and Huggenot uncles would descend, pick our grapes and lug them into the cellar. The grapes were washed, put into flour sacks and boiled. The men would lift the steaming sacks and drain the juice into scalded Mason jars. My teetotalling relatives made gallons of grape juice and jellies, sealed with paraffin and neatly labeled.

This canning was the occasion of renewal and story telling. Like the grapevine on the arbor, the family had genealogies on both sides of the fence. The rootings were in Sweden, England, France, Holland, Germany, and America. My relatives had supported each other through childbirth, the depression, war, illness, and into old age.

After WWII, times got supposedly better. We tore down the grape arbor, pulled out the roots, and burned everything in order to make a suburban lawn. For whatever reasons, the family was nourished and cultivated less. My aunts and uncle did not come out to the house any more. They were neglected, withered, starved, and eventually died alone.

We bought our grape juice in a Welch’s bottle and our grape jelly in a Kraft jar at the A&P. When I showed the grapevine to my Irish Catholic mother-in-law, I noticed that it was the same kind that we used to grow in Illinois. Perhaps it was indirectly related (although a thousand times removed) to the vines from which our Illinois grapes were grafted. Perhaps it, too, would flourish with proper nourishment and pruning along the fence. Perhaps some day I would erect an arbor house upon which it would grow, which it would eventually support, and within which my grandchildren would play. Perhaps someday they, too, would reflect upon families and histories, stories, genealogies, and life lines. Amen.