The Shannon household was more fortunate than many when the derecho pummeled the Roanoke Valley recently. We did not lose electric power, although we went without telephone, television and internet for several days. The most damage we suffered was the result of strong winds that broke our grape arbor and uprooted our seckel pear tree, the last survivor of several dwarf fruit trees Harry planted shortly after we bought our home 52 years ago.
Harry did not prune the grapevines this spring – another of those tasks that get neglected when age creeps up on you and saps your energy. The vines went wild and jumped to the nearby pear tree, encapsulating it with a tough net of wiry stems and broad leaves. Soon clusters of green grapes dangled from the limbs of the tree.
The wild wind whipped across the hill, caught the top-heavy tree and pulled it to the ground. Still connected to the grape arbor, the vines wrenched the arbor and broke it in two. The following morning we saw the damage – a pitiful heap of destruction. But, oh, the beautiful green grapes, larger than in previous years! And easy to reach, supported by the fallen tree.
Harry agreed to postpone cleanup until after they ripened. He knows how much I look forward to making grape jelly each year. Although we consume little of it ourselves, it makes lovely gifts. I enjoy giving something I have made – it’s more personal, like giving a part of me. When we grew a garden, my signature gift was a jar of red, white and green chow-chow. But we have not planted a garden for several years, and I have depended upon the luscious Concord grapes to provide juice for jars of jelly, sparkling like red wine in the sunlight.
Sometimes feedback from the recipients is a real blessing. A friend told me her son did not like grape jelly – refused it on his peanut butter sandwiches. However, he tasted the home made jelly and declared it a favorite! (He received another jar as a graduation gift.) On another occasion, a shut-in’s daughter told me as her mother lay dying, she asked if there was any more grape jelly left. What a profound joy to know my jelly satisfied her dying wish.
Like most other vegetation this unusual season, the grapes ripened a full two weeks early. They have benefitted from the hot weather – sweeter and richer in color. I pick them quickly and carefully, before the yellow jackets suck the nectar from the purple globes leaving dark, dried carcasses in their place.
Tonight I will extract the juice and follow through with my precise directions for making perfect jelly. I wonder how someone developed such exacting directions – exactly seven cups of sugar, exactly five cups of juice, boil exactly one minute. But if you follow the directions exactly, it works and the consistency of the jelly is exactly right.
Soon the damage done by the storm will be cleaned up and the vines cut back, hopefully to survive and provide more grapes next year. If not, I’m sure the Lord who provided the garden and the grapes will surely provide some other way for me to share with those I love.