Sisters of the Vine
Eight Hundred Grapes meets A League of Their Own. The story of one woman’s determination to keep the land she loves and the sisterhood formed around her. And, yes, there’s wine!
Housewife and mother with a loving husband to take care of her – that’s all Liz, a Fifties gal, ever wanted. Over her father’s objections, she drops out of college to marry Rick, who dreams of living off the land. They buy a farm on a verdant hillside in the Hudson Valley, but can’t agree on what to plant. When they discover French-American hybrid grapes, Liz is confident they’ll be happy. Grapes are classy.
As the rich soil sinks into her soul and the vines begin to thrive, the marriage grows rocky. Refusing to disappoint her father again, Liz is determined to make her marriage work… until she discovers a photograph hidden in the old barn.
Faced with impossible decisions, Liz is desperate. She has a vineyard ready to harvest and no idea how to accomplish the task. Does she have the moxie to flourish? Or will she and the land turn fallow?
The locomotive rumbled past, rattling the nursery window. Its piercing sound echoed as it travelled down the tracks. Where was everyone going? Where was she going?
Liz froze, waiting for the baby’s wail, then looked over her shoulder and sighed. Bethany was fast asleep in her crib, her little knees tucked under her belly, her tushy up in the air. Resting on the Winnie the Pooh sheet, dropped right on top of Eeyore, was her pacifier with the flesh- colored rubber nipple. The binky always slipped from her tiny lips when she settled.
Sweet, three-month-old Bethany, born the same day Alan Shepard, the Mercury Seven astronaut, was launched into space. As America celebrated the historical flight, Liz and Rick reveled in their own joy, dreaming of where their life would now take them.
Liz pressed a palm to her heart and let out a soft sigh, relieved the clanging hadn’t woken her baby. She pulled back the dotted swiss curtain on the nursery’s window and gazed out at the long line of train cars on the track just beyond the apartment’s small parking lot. How long will it take this one to silence? she wondered and winced, noticing the grit on her finger tips. Rubbing her thumb against her other four fingers, she tried to wipe them clean. She looked at the window sill covered in soot. A bitter tang filled her mouth.
At night, the hushed sound of the train moving from Ulster County to Putnam and down to Westchester was romantic, just as Liz had imagined when they first moved into the apartment. Now, its clicking metal wheels and blaring noon whistle threatened to wreck the baby’s midday nap, and Liz desperately needed her to sleep. When she napped, so did Mommy – or she tried to. Piles of laundry and bottles to sterilize – not to mention vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, and dusting – usually kept her from putting her head on the pillow. Although Liz loved taking care of their home and their baby, she hated having to clean the filthy windowsills with their grimy coating, and today Rick wasn’t even around to help. Usually, on weekends, he took Bethany out for their daddy-daughter walk so Liz could make the apartment shine. Today, though, he was off on a fishing trip with one of his fellow teachers.
Liz bent over the crib and tucked the handmade blanket around the baby. Her sister, Kristin, had chosen the perfect colors to crochet – mint-green and yellow, matching the walls and carpeting. Liz patted her daughter’s tiny rump and whispered, “Sleep tight, Bethany. I love you.”
Bethany, a name that evoked elegance and grace. The three syllables rolled off her tongue like a whisper. Liz was always partial to the name; it reminded her of the tall, slender gal from high school who never had weight problems, unlike herself. And Rick was right. It was chic – “too chic,” as he put it – yet that’s just what she wanted, even if he didn’t.
Liz quietly walked out of the nursery, leaving the door half open. She walked across the hall, but before she had a chance to enter her own bedroom, the train whistle resounded, practically shaking the walls. She stopped dead. As expected, Bethany cried out. Liz hurried back. She rubbed her daughter’s little head and placed the pacifier between her lips. Her mouth, like two tiny bows, pursed in and out. She quieted and Liz sighed. That was easy, she thought. Not like yesterday when the baby screamed every hour on the hour, whenever the train rolled by, its whistle like a trumpet cutting through the humid summer air.
On days like that, Liz was desperate to move and she didn’t care where as long as there were no trains in the vicinity. She wished for cool breezes to waft through open windows and gently swish the curtains rather than the blaring noise and the dirt. She had planned to talk to Rick about it last night when the baby was finally asleep, but by the time she got Bethany down for the night, Liz was fried. A quiet smoke sitting on the steps outside the garden apartment with her tall, handsome husband, whose well-defined arms felt so good against her skin, was all she wanted.
Liz managed to doze off for a bit while Bethany slept. The short snooze revived her, giving her enough energy to tackle the bathroom and kitchen. With the floors sparkling clean – up to Rick’s demands – and the lemon scent of Pledge throughout the apartment, Liz collapsed on the couch with a Winston and mused about how she would spend the rest of the afternoon once her baby woke. She needed to get out, which surprised her. All along, she had believed being a housewife would be enough. It had been her dream, why she dropped out of college after only one year to marry Rick. Yet, after twelve weeks with a newborn, Liz realized she missed working more than she ever could have imagined. Even though it would be at nursery school where she would be with more children, Liz longed to get back to work. She could bring Bethany with her; she’d even checked with the director. But would Rick agree? She was afraid to bring the subject up.
The pungent aroma of fish wafted through the front door. “Hey, Liz, I’m home and I’ve got dinner,” Rick shouted as he wiped his feet on the entryway rug.
With the baby on her hip, Liz hurried from the kitchen. Rick stood proud, holding out a large package wrapped in oil-stained brown paper. “Bluefish, all cleaned and filleted,” he said. “Ready for the broiler and lots more for the freezer.”
That species was not Liz’s favorite, but her husband loved it. Actually, he loved anything fresh. Rick was not a fan of store-bought fish or store-bought vegetables. “If you could have your own cow,” she’d once said to him, “you’d be the happiest guy around.”
“No,” he’d answered. “Because then I’d have to kill it to have a hamburger.” He’d told her she could buy beef at the Grand Union, although someday soon, once they bought the land he so desperately wanted, she wouldn’t be buying any vegetables. “We’ll grow our own and live off the land,” he’d said, giving her nose a tender tap.
Liz kissed his sweaty cheek, and Rick handed her the fish. He rubbed his smelly hands on his thighs and reached for his daughter. “You go separate the fillets and start dinner,” he said. “I’ll keep this little lady busy.”
Rick walked off with Bethany tucked in his arms. Liz figured it was better not to say anything about washing his hands. Pick your battles, she told herself as she listened to him jabber on about his day.
“Daddy caught lots of fish today,” he said, smiling at Bethany’s peachy-pink little face. “Real big ones. One day I’ll take you fishin’ . . .” The baby cooed and looked at her daddy with big blue eyes, the same sapphire color that Liz’s mother had. Entranced by her daughter’s wide eyes focused on Daddy, Liz felt that familiar ache in her chest, the one that grabbed her every time she thought about her mother never knowing her beautiful granddaughter. Cancer had taken her mom from Liz shortly before the end of senior year in high school, before Liz had even met Rick Bergen. She always wondered if her mother would have liked her choice of husband. Liz knew her mom wouldn’t have been pleased with her getting a wedding band before a college degree, just as her dad hadn’t been. They’d always said Liz should marry a man she could count on. And then there was that teaching license they always mentioned, so she’d have something to fall back on. Liz bristled merely thinking of those words. She believed the first part had come true. She could count on Rick. He was steady, even with his big dream. He’d promised he would continue working until the day came when they could actually live off their land, and if it proved they financially could not, then at least they’d nourish their bodies from it. But the part about her getting a teaching license – well, not so much. A nursery school job would not bring her a pension, a word her parents used that Liz never was able to wrap her head around. Shaking those disturbing thoughts from her head, Liz let the heartwarming twosome of daddy and daughter strolling off together seep into her skin. Then she turned and walked into the kitchen, the place where Rick seemed to like her best, other than their bedroom.
When dinner was over and the dishes were done, it was bedtime for the baby. Liz placed the finished bottle on the little table next to the rocking chair and lifted her sleeping daughter. She stood rocking her, making sure she was deep in sleep, then laid her in the crib, gently, like a treasured piece of fine china. She leaned over and turned the knob on the mobile. Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, and baby Roo twirled above the yellow crib. She watched Bethany’s little torso lift and lower with each breath. When she tucked her knees under her belly and lifted her bottom in her favorite sleeping position, Liz knew it was safe to leave.
She flopped onto the living room couch, put her feet up on the pine coffee table, and peered at her husband reclining on the Barcalounger, eyes closed. In his hand was a glass half-filled with a toast-colored liquid, not his usual after-dinner cup of coffee.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“What’s what?” Rick opened his eyes and looked around the room.
Liz pointed. “In your glass.”
“Oh. The guys were sayin’ today how they loved a shot of scotch after a long day on the water. It keeps the mellow mood goin’.”
“Mellow. How nice.”
“You shoulda seen it, Liz. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, and the fish were biting. It was perfect.”
Strains of a Mozart sonata from the Winnie the Pooh mobile softly filled the air. “Yes, perfect,” Liz said shaking her head, though her husband didn’t see that. His eyes were closed again as he lay back swallowing a sip of his mellow libation. “After I cleaned the bathroom and washed the kitchen floor, Beth and I went to the park.”
“Good,” he murmured from the depths of mellow. “I’m glad my girls got out today.”
Liz let the violins and flutes play. Between the relaxing music and Johnny Walker, she judged her timing was right.
To be continued…