I was rolling a plump, emerald acorn squash from hand to hand, my fingers falling in its heavy valleys to playfully defend its beauty from the ravages of gravity, when Caitlin's incantation came lilting over the bushel baskets of papery Vidalia onions that spanned between us: "Oh, Mamadah, come here...."
It's a wonder I even heard her, lost as I was in my annual reverie of celebrating the return of fall squashes to our neighborhood organic market... except for the fact that she spoke a magic word:
"Mamadah... they have muscadines."
Oh. Oh. My precious Granddaddy. Just that one word -- muscadines -- and though he has long since gone home to the Lord, he is suddenly everywhere.
Caitlin stands by the produce scale, beckoning with a flutter of her fingers. Her heart is in her smile. She knows that I am about to go, and she knows where. "Muscadines," she repeats, quietly. It's hypnosis, pure and simple.
Half-gone already, I pick one of the bronze-tinged grapes from the nearest cluster. It's the first one I've held in my fingers in many, many years. Its perfume chases the oxygen from my lungs. Something deep in my chest constricts, as though my full-grown heart is straining against a ribcage that has reverted to child-size. My eyes shut tight, crowding out tears that escape to run straight toward the mysterious green orb I hold beneath my nose. Loss falls upon me like a smothering net.
"Oh, Mamadah... oh," I hear my daughter whisper, and I feel her arms fold me in. She knows, and yet she doesn't. Not yet.
I slip the grape into my mouth, and its heavy juice makes decades dissolve. I am small and golden again. I am in my grandfather's Tennessee garden, skipping down the vine-laden fencerow that runs alongside the grassy lane to the old white barn. The sun is setting under the lower branches of the big pecans in the chicken yard, gilding a palette of every imaginable green --fanning, waving, dancing greens. The air is heavy, laced with the aromatic lure of the towering, handsome dill stalks that bend in breezy flirtation toward my Grandmother's intoxicating cabbage roses.
Granddaddy's garden is both tame and wild, a wonderland of God's imaginative providence expressed in sensuous, verdant marvels.
And he is back, too, all back. His lanky, ancient form flickers and rustles through tall corn as he swats his way through the stalks that reach out to him as he passes. He is singing to them, singing songs of his redemption, the uncontainable joy of which he expresses through the art of this impossibly beautiful patch of fallen earth. The song is a parable, sung as it is over soil he toils daily to redeem from nature's chaos, and all for the glory of his Redeemer. I hear his ringing tenor that sinks into my bones and remains there forever. I hear the corn stalks whisper hosannas in his wake. I hear the garden spigot dripping rhythm in the pail. I hear the evening train shouting out all my childish joy in the distance.
A whole world existed inside the bronze-green skin of my Granddaddy's grapes, a world now so very removed from my own. It is all gone now -- the gardener, the garden, the lush vines that promised precious communion wine for my grandparents' much-beloved church (which, thankfully, yet remains). A complex maze of sterile commercial storage buildings now entomb those acres of fertile soil my Grandfather rendered rich and dark and silky to the hand by his continuous daily feasts of compost and love and rejoicing.
But I still have the songs Granddaddy sang in his garden. And the One who made muscadines and dill and cabbage roses and sunlight, the One who redeemed my Grandfather, the One whose blood we revere through wine from these small miracles we call grapes -- He is still here, too.
With blurry eyes, I tucked the grapes into my basket and brought them home. Though my grandfather never saw my home, when I arise in the morning, my kitchen will smell like he has been there, standing at the sink, testing the wine to make sure it's worthy for the Lord's Supper. And when I arise in the morning, I just might sing to these grapes -- a song of redemption, of a life blessed by grandfathers and gardens, by daughters and roses and muscadine wine.