Summer of Concord

I know, I know; sounds like the title of a bad romance novel, doesn’t it? But since it’s so damn cold, I thought I’d write about something that always says summer to me the same way strawberries and asparagus say spring. Where I grew up, the houses all had big backyards–at least, they seemed big to us, at the time. The house that backed up directly onto our backyard had one of those dumb split-rail fences (they don’t actually keep anything smaller than a cow or horse in or out, do they?) at the line with our property, and behind that was a grape arbor. A Concord grape arbor, to be specific, which when I was growing up was the only kind of grape anybody knew. When we played hide-and-seek—which we did A LOT, because this was in the days before there were any sort of organized group activities involving grown-ups for kids (except for Little League, and not many boys seemed to do that), so we whiled away our long, long summers playing hide-and-seek and kick-the-can and softball and sardines and like that—the BEST place to hide was in the middle of the grape arbor, scootched down in the dirt, with the ripening fruit hanging all around you, making you dizzy with the smell. Concord grapes don’t taste all that great—when you pop one between your teeth, there’s a hint of the sweet fragrance that’s quickly swallowed up by the green squishy sour pulpy inside, that sort of makes you purse your mouth up. That’s why we could hang out in the arbor and not get caught by the neighbors. We didn’t actually eat the grapes; we just sucked in the scent. It was also a great place to hide because there would always be bees swarming around, so whoever was “it” didn’t really want to get too close. But the bees wouldn’t bother you much so long as you were still, and just crouched there, getting drunk on the rich grape aroma.

We were, in fact, so tormented by the disconnect between the smell of those grapes and their taste that one time, we picked a whole mess of them, swiped some pectin and sugar from my mom’s kitchen, and tried to make the grape-jelly equivalent of sun tea. Didn’t work. Made an awful mess in the Corrigans’ garage, too, up in the top loft where Mr. Corrigan kept his Playboy magazines.

You know Welch’s grape juice? A guy named Welch first developed a way to make nonfermenting grape juice out of Concord grapes, so his church could use it instead of wine at communion. How abstentious.

When I lived in the city, I planted a Concord grapevine out in the backyard, hoping to re-create that scent, but we moved before it ever bore grapes. For all I know, it’s still there today. If I had room for one, I’d sure plant one here at this house. I’d make stuffed grape leaves with the leaves, and I’d move a lawn chair out close to the vine in late summer, and sit and smell the grapes.

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