October 16, 2017
Our elderly Italian neighbor's deceased husband planted a grapevine many years ago. He built an arbor for that vine that borders on our backyard fence.
In recent years, since his death and the declining health of his wife, the vine and the arbor haven't been maintained. The grapevines reach into our own yard and having nowhere to train them I cut them back and throw them into the green waste that is collected by the city.
But this grapevine is hearty and is a copious producer. The grapes aren't visible at first glance. You have to peek behind the broad grape leaves to see the clusters of fruit, practically falling off the vine with their juicy weight. And fall off the vine they do. Into the dark, damp earth of our flower gardens where the snails leave slime trails in the dirt.
I was gardening one day, weeding in the flowers when I caught sight of a grape cluster just over my head. And upon inspection, another and another. And when I parted the wall of foliage to look under the overgrown arbor, into my neighbor's yard, I found the motherlode of grapes.
A variety, that if I can understand my elderly neighbor's Italian-French, comes from Italy.
My neighbor has lived next door in her apartment for over forty years. At some point in history, she and her husband bought the building. They raised three children in that home. Her grown fifties-something daughter and twenty-something grandson live in the upstairs apartment. Another son moved to the States and another son lives a culture away, just across the river on the South Shore.
My elderly neighbor is growing fragile and has dementia. She had a fall last summer and again this spring. I've hardly seen her this year at all. I had a long heartfelt talk with her daughter (no language barrier when we both speak English) across the fence one afternoon when I was out gardening, about the challenges of caring for an ailing parent. The grief and anger, the sense of loss.
She loves her mother so much but the burden of caring for her, while working a full-time job, is becoming too great. This may be their last winter as my neighbors. The daughter is thinking she's sell the building, in part to pay for her mom's long-term care, if she lives that long. In part to start a new phase of life, away from this neighborhood, this apartment building. Her son, raised here, like his mother, doesn't want to leave.
Families. All unique and yet all common in our struggles to love and care for one another. In our desire to root in the familiar, the neighborhoods and relationships of our childhood. In our quests for independence from where we come from and the ties that pull us back.
Our neighbors don't harvest the grapes anymore. They used to, when the patriarch was alive. Back when they tended their garden and grew tomatoes, harvested the apples from their apple tree.
I've picked many clusters of grapes. They taste so good, but I can't eat too many. They hurt my mouth. They don't bother Celine, as long as she doesn't eat the skin. So we, the anglophone western-born transplants to this eastern francophone city, eat the fruit of our neighbor's vine.
A vine we didn't plant. A vine we don't tend but a vine that gifts us with this beauty and fruit, nonetheless. Newcomers to the neighborhood.
Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.
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