The year is 1869.
A Methodist invents a way to prevent the fermentation of grapes. This effectively enrages churchgoers who had previously enjoyed indulgences in the fruit of the vine.
The year is 1951.
One year and one day after her marriage, a farm girl has her first child. A daughter. This effectively disappoints her husband who wanted a son. His heart would soften soon after, perhaps due to the addition of the young couple’s second-born son. A sailor in the Pacific, his remembrances of combat allowed him to discover the value of a girl-child. Boys go to war. Daughters don’t.
The year is 1969.
Grape juice celebrates its 100th birthday. America preemptively celebrates a quick victory on a peninsula called Vietnam. A young man with his name in a lottery he doesn’t want to win meets a girl. She wouldn’t be a woman until years later.
He was drunk when they met. She had been to church earlier that night. If she had been born half a century earlier, she would have been a prohibitionist. Whether a momentary lapse in judgment or divine ordination by the God she prayed to, she fell.
The year is 1971.
Their friends had been largely unsuccessful in the jungles of Vietnam. She, however, was successful on the battlefield of her marriage. She had never been on an airplane, but she had recently visited the great state of Tennessee. She needed a rocking chair, and her father – excited to be a grandpa – knew the perfect place. Like most Baby Boomers, she had been raised with faith in marriage and Jesus. Like most good girls, she thought the thrill of commitment would trump for her young husband the thrill of a night with the boys. She gives an ultimatum, a stoic prayer after nine months of tears: Become the father you already are. He did.
Firstborn girls run in my family. This mid-century discovery was supported by additional data in 1971. In 1997, the theory was accepted as law.
The year is 2001.
My favorite color is purple. My mother swears it was my first word, though I think this assertion can be chalked up to maternal exaggeration. I was a bright child…not that bright. Comfort comes in different colors. They don’t teach you about Freud or chakras in kindergarten. Maybe it’s not psychology or New Age medicine. Maybe it has more to do with the purple dinosaur on VHS tapes. Maybe color comfort is simply inherited. My grandmother’s childhood bedroom was violet, she’s told me on more than one occasion.
I had only heard of a place called New York City because my grandparents brought me gifts when they went there. My grandfather, on business. My grandmother, to see Broadway and Katie Couric. I saw my name on morning television once. On a handmade poster on 48th Street. It had purple letters.
Purple is the reason I preferred grape juice to apple. I don’t know why I cried in the middle of the night. I spent so many days and nights with my grandparents, that night shouldn’t have been any different than the others. But for some reason, it was. Few things are scarier to a child than a dark hallway. Rocking chairs sometimes face them, blending comfort and fear in the most unsettling of ways. She rocks me, and I drink grape juice that leaves a stain on her nightshirt. I hadn’t been rocked since I started “big girl” school, and I was proud of it. So many things about being a big girl changed that day. Compared to big cities and airplanes, hallways weren’t too scary. Still, a hallway was the last fear on my mind as I fell asleep.
The years are getting shorter, I’ve found.
I hold a toddler who isn’t mine. I realize that’s what my grandmother has been doing for the last twenty years, though she claims her grandchildren take up more love in her heart than their parents ever did. I watch her reach to alleviate the weight from my younger hip. “I’ve got her,” I promise. “Are you sure?” she looks at me like a child in high heels-under qualified to pour juice or assume responsibility of a pacifier. I kiss her cheek and remind her how old I am. Before she walks out of the kitchen, I notice a stain like watercolor on her shoulder.
I wait for people to die now, something I had never considered before. By some miracle or blessing from the Lord, I have never experienced the death of grandparent. I know I will gain that experience with proximity too close for my comfort. Like those little pre-raisins, everyone eventually rots. The difference is that grapes grow sweeter after their life source has been cut off. Consider the sacrament. This is my blood of the covenant, which was poured out for you. I have always wanted to be like Jesus. What I didn’t know was that being like Jesus means spilling yourself for others, giving thanks for the consumer: the church lady and the drunk. What is universal about grapes and us, however, is that we are eventually consumed. If not, then we are crushed into the ground and left to decay. Consumption, I suppose, is better than waste.