I was out taking pictures of old barns when I came across one very interesting one and decided to stop.
I walked around to the back door to ask the owner for permission to go out to his barn. The porch was in disarray, but I admired the carved, scrolled, peeling green and white wood sconces holding up a smaller roof over a side door. I saw no doorbell and the inside looked dark, so I decided to take my chances and take a couple photos of the barn and leave.
As I was taking my shots, a man walked out with his lunch box. I yelled out to him a greeting. He stopped we introduced ourselves and we talked a bit. His name was Bill, and he was off to work for the night. I asked if I could take pictures of the barn and outbuildings, and he said, “sure.” I mentioned to him that I am a writer and enjoy the subject of living out here in the country setting far away from the city.
He told me a bit about Archie Lieberman. He was a photographer and author who wrote about a part of his life living in Jo Daviess County, an area rich in history and farmland.
About this time his wife Susan came out of the house and he yelled to her to find the Archie books for me to see. He then excused himself so he wouldn't be late to work.
She came over and we talked a bit about what I was doing. She mentioned to me that they were getting ready to harvest the grapes for the local winery Galena Cellars.
We walked over to the vines and I looked. The sections seemed to go on way into the distance.
Susan told me that she ran an ad in the paper looking for help and got ZERO responses. I was flabbergasted that not one person was interested in making some money.
I asked what was involved and when to be there. I figured I could at least try it and see what it entailed.
"8 a.m. on Saturday morning," she said.
"I'll be there!" was my enthusiastic response.
Saturday morning rolled around and I was up and there at 8 a.m.
It was a beautiful day. The sky was blue and dotted with fluffy white clouds. There was a bit of a chill in the air which soon wore off.
Susan handed me my tool for the day— a pair of sharp clippers. She warned me to be careful not to cut myself. I was happy to see there were other people there to harvest the grapes.
I looked at the endless rows of vines and took my first step as a harvester.
The wrath of grapes awaited me. They taunted me with their entangled vines. Come and get us they challenged.
Through the fluttering bees, I reached in and clipped my first bunch. Snip, the grapes fell harmlessly into my hand and into the bucket they went. I felt confident as I won this momentary battle.
For hours, I detangled vines and surgically removed the small clusters of grapes from their quiet nesting place learning to skillfully avoid the bees.
My hands suffered not from overwork, but of the mark of grape blood.
I heard a female voice quietly singing and humming. I was waiting to hear others join in with songs from the South. I felt like singing, "Working on a Chain Gang," but it didn't seem appropriate.
It was not as boring as one would seem to think it to be. There was a little emergency and concern when one man jokingly called "Medic" after he snipped his finger.
What I realized, was this was not a job to wear a brand new pair of Wrangler jeans to. I needed to lean into the vines to reach the grapes that were entwined in the vines higher up. As I withdrew, there on my shirt pocket, were a couple of specks of purple. I was pretty upset by that until I remembered I only paid .50 for it at the thrift store.
My mind was pretty much kept busy by the conversation going on between a couple other harvesters taking about making wine. It was very interesting hearing about the acid and sugar content. Timing and repeated testing during the harvest are very important. It is quite a science to make wine.
As I sniped I thought about how we take for granted where our food comes from. Food is a pretty faceless item.
When a person walks into the store and fills their cart with food, I am pretty sure they do not think about how it was put together, or WHO did the work. They just complain about how expensive it is.
About noon the word was out it was time to eat. Susan led us into her home and before us laid a spread fit for royalty. There was pulled pork, noodle casserole, vegetables, potato salad, cole-slaw, rolls, LOTS of baked goods, drinks, and so much more.
With my plate piled high with goodies and extra homemade chocolate chip cookies in my shirt pocket, I went on the porch to eat. My biggest fear was I may not want to get up again to go back to work.
I sat among the others. The conversation was quite interesting in this farmland community. The topic was the new cell phones and what a waste of money they were. One guy took out his flip phone to show he won't go out and spend big money. That flip phone triggered my memory of the old heavy black telephones when people were independent, not monitored by the government or big business, and free to go as they pleased in peace.
It was refreshing to see the mixture of young and old with the common goal of putting in a good day's hard work. The work ethic of farm people far outweighs the ethics of city folk. When it comes to hard labor, the farm community does not whine and cry. What is sad is the city folk do not appreciate the farmer or their family. Many ridicule them as being uneducated.
What I found to be a bit comical was when we went back to work, and I heard one person ask if I was still around. When I said, “I'm here,” she laughed, and said she thought I snuck out. Apparently, I earned a gold star, for someone commented on how that "Chicago boy" wasn't complaining about the tedious work.
As the conversation wore on, I could hear in the background the quiet wail of the grapes taunting me. They waited for me to make me bend to their will.
But they were not to win that day.
To celebrate, I will buy two bottles of wine from the winery. One to drink, and one to put on the shelf and gloat my victory beating the wrath of grapes.