I was sitting at my desk today, eating some grapes and reading a training manual, when my mind started to wander. I remembered being about ten years old and visiting my Granny in Florida, and eating the grapes that grew wild on her property.
My extended-nuclear family (myself, Mom, Memaw, and Aunt Sammie) had moved to Florida, ostensibly to be closer to Granny and Uncle Charlie (Memaw’s mother and brother). So, for a three-year stretch in the mid-80s, while we lived nearby, we would visit Granny and Charlie on a regular basis — maybe once a week? We’d make the half-hour drive south from Riverview to Ruskin, passing retirement communities and various small towns and orange-packing plants and long expanses of nothing but sandspurs, until we finally took a few turns down overgrown back roads in Ruskin and made the left-hand turn onto Granny’s weed-choked driveway. I still remember the sound of the tall, dry weeds smacking the underside of Sammie’s car as we rumbled up the long drive, following the tire tracks through the overgrown palmettos and vines and other various semi-tropical underbrush.
Charlie’s old blue truck would be parked by the shack, and we’d pull into the front yard (which looked like every other front yard I’d seen in Florida: mainly sand, with a few sparse patches of crabgrass and prickers and sandspurs). Granny and Charlie were always glad to see us, and they’d come out of their shack to greet us with big ol’ grins on their weathered faces.
Granny and Charlie’s shack wasn’t really appropriate for company — the floorboards were oddly spaced and rotten, and there was no plumbing — so we mainly stood outside and talked; looking back, I don’t even really remember what we talked about. I was young enough that I still enjoyed playing with Granny’s thick, leathery skin; and I spent lots of time contemplating her long wispy white hair, always pulled up into about half a dozen tiny buns, each flattened to her head with a single bobby pin. She and Charlie both dipped snuff, so our visits would be punctuated with occasional spitting, either in a coffee can sitting on the ground or just right in the dirt and weeds, and they both smelled of tobacco.
I always had to be careful not to wander off; not that I was really tempted to go exploring, since everybody always made sure to remind me about all the snakes that lived in the weeds. Sometimes, though, Granny would take us back to see her garden. I honestly don’t remember much of what she grew, but I’m sure it was typical garden fare, with some southern stuff like okra thrown in for local color.
One day in particular, she took us a different way, opposite from the way to the garden. Just around the corner from where we’d parked our car in the yard, there grew a wild grapevine with ripe fruit. Granny picked a few grapes for us, and I remember how delicious they were, just for being wild. The skins were a silvery-lavender color and were thick; and there were seeds, of course. But I still remember those few grapes as being the best grapes I’d ever had, before or since.
We moved back to Ohio in the summer of 1987, and the last time I saw my Granny was during a summer vacation we took when I was in junior high, a couple years later. She died just after Thanksgiving, the fall of my Freshman year of high school, at age 79.
Funny, isn’t it, though, how we can look back on something that seemed so normal and commonplace at the time, and find such joyous details in the memories?