Monday, July 2, 2012
The Harvest Begins
The Harvest Begins
Nick Rossi was enjoying the last few minutes he was spending with his wife and baby son before he was off to the vineyard. Lucinda was feeding Daniel his breakfast. The boy was growing so quickly. Nick was always so busy these days. Today was the day the grapes would be harvested for the first time. He hoped he had hired enough workers. He was skeptical about the young boy named Bobby Warren. He said he was 16 but Nick had his doubts. He wondered if he was homeless. He seemed almost desperate to find a job. Bobby asked when he would be paid. That usually meant the worker wasn't planning to stay on the job for too long. Even so, Nick had a soft spot for the kid and hired him.
Nick arrived at 3:30 and some of the men were beginning to show up. Bobby had been up since 2:30. Addie heard him moving around and started breakfast for him. Leo drove him to the vineyard.
“How would you like to take a spin at the wheel on the way home, Bobby?”
“Are you sure? That would be swell. Wait til the children see me driving an automobile. I guess we should start thinking about leaving since I'll be able to pay for a tent for us after I get paid today.”
“We'll see about that,” said Leo knowing Millie would never allow those children to live in a tent. “I'll be by to pick you up at dusk. Don't worry, you will do a fine job.”
Leo was tempted to give the boy a hug. He looked so young.
“Good morning Bobby. Come have a cup of coffee to warm you up. Once the sun comes out the temperature will begin to climb.” Nick noticed he had on a heavy coat that looked fairly new. He wondered if the boy had been taken in by a family in town. He thought he saw Leo Schmidt drive away. It would be just like Millie to put the boy up.
Bobby had never tasted coffee before. His mother drank it sometimes but not near the end. She said she didn't need frivolous things like coffee anymore. It smelled good to him but he didn't have any money. It was bad enough he was taking charity from Miss Millie.
“No thank you Mr. Rossi.”
“Call me Nick. My pa will think you are talking to him. His name is Lou. Papa, come meet the youngest member of our crew.”
Lou was anxious to get started. “Come on young man. I'll show you how to pick this beautiful fruit without harming one grape on the cluster. We aren't in any rush so we will take our time. You will get paid for the hours you work not the amount of grapes you pick.”
“Yes sir. I'm ready to go to work.”
Lou explained the process in detail. “You'll need to find where the stem meets the cluster of grapes. Cut the stem as close to the top of the cluster as possible. Don't cut straight across, try to cut it diagonally. Now carefully lay the cluster in the basket. Lay the next ones very gently so you don't bruise the grapes on the bottom. Don't fill the basket too full, we have plenty of baskets so help yourself to another. Alright Bobby, you are ready to start.”
Bobby's hands were shaking. He knew how important it was that he did just what Lou told him to. He remembered everything he said and was able to pick up a little speed after the first few vines were harvested.
“Bobby, I couldn't do any better myself.”
Lou loved the grapes and loved the land. He talked through the whole row of vines about the wonders of the earth. Bobby seemed to be taking it all in. Or maybe he was just being polite.
They started down the next row. Lou took one side while Bobby harvested the other. It was then he began asking Lou questions. Lou could tell by the questions that he had heard every word he said. This boy was truly interested in what he was doing. He was better at the job than some of the older, experienced men they'd hired.
After two hours of working, the Hightower ladies came out with refreshments.
“Come on Bobby, let's get something to eat. We have worked up an appetite.”
“Lou, I don't have any money to buy anything so I'll just keep working.”
“Money! You don't need money, son. The Hightowers know everyone works better after a break and something to eat and drink. Come on help yourself. That's what it's here for.”
“How is Bobby doing?” Nick asked his father.
“He's a good worker, Nick. I know you had your doubts about hiring such a young fellow but he caught on quickly and he is handling those grape clusters like they were newborn babes. I asked him if he planned to stay on and he said he hoped he could. He seems to have the weight of the world on his shoulders. I don't want to push him to talk. I'm hoping he will open up soon.”
“Lucinda came by earlier. Cassandra wanted to help with the harvest. I cut them off the vine and she laid them in the basket. I wish you could have seen how carefully she handled them. Anyway, Lucinda ran into Millie and Helene's friend Margaret in Nichol's General Store. They were buying clothes in various sizes. Seems there is a family of 7 children and no parents who arrived in town yesterday. You know Millie. She had to take them in. I'm wondering if Bobby might be one of the children. Lucinda counted 6 of the them. Cassandra was happy because she has more playmates. They are all meeting in the park at lunchtime for a picnic.”
Harvey explained the situation to Oscar. “Do you think I'd have a problem adopting the children, Oscar?”
“Since you aren't married, adoption may not be possible. Because the children don't have parents, and if the oldest boy agrees, you could be named their legal guardian. Harvey, have you really thought it through. This would be a major undertaking for you. It would be an enormous challenge to raise seven youngsters even for a young man who is raising his own children. You say the youngest is around 5 or 6. You would be giving up at least ten years of your life.”
“I know, Oscar. Maybe I am being foolish but I think I could give them a good life. Its not as though I will be washing clothes and cooking meals. I have people doing that for me. Also, I didn't mention this earlier but I have fallen in love with Helene Robinson's friend, Margaret. We spoke briefly about raising the children together.”
“Margaret, yes I've met her. She is a lovely woman. You old fox. You have had a busy few days.”
“There is something else I'd like you to investigate for me. Margaret tells of a home in Albany for homeless boys. She volunteers there a couple of days a week. It is different than an orphanage. The children go to the local schools. The older ones are able to have jobs outside of the facility. It is less sterile than the traditional orphanage. I have that big house in Greensboro that I don't intend to return to. It has separate wings and I was hoping it could house both boys and girls. I realize it would take some work to have it modified for that purpose. As you saw, there is enough land to build several more houses and the apple orchard is famous in the area for the best apples around. I think somewhere I have my dear mother's recipe for apple pie. I think she would be pleased to have young people bake her delicious pie. Tell me Oscar, what do you think? Could this plan work?”
“Harvey, you haven't just turned over a new leaf you flipped the entire tree. It's a wonderful idea. I will get right on it. I like the real you, Harvey.”
“Thank you Oscar. That is kind of you to say especially after I gave Emma and her chums such a hard time. Maybe I can make up for my some of my cruel antics in the time I have left.”
The day went by swiftly for Bobby. He watched and listened as the grapes were gently soaked and placed in vats to begin the fermentation process. He had found a friend in Lou Rossi and was anxious to come back the next day. He waved goodbye to Lou and Nick and spotted Leo waiting for him. Leo was in the passenger seat and Harvey Wilson was sitting behind him.
“Hello Bobby. How was your day with the grapes?”
“It was terrific. Lou showed me just how to cut the grape clusters. He knows everything there is to know about grapes and the earth. I can't wait to go back tomorrow.”
“You ready to learn how to drive this automobile?
“I sure am. I can't believe you are letting me drive. I hope Miss Millie doesn't object.”
“As long as Miss Millie doesn't have to drive it herself, she doesn't care who else does.”
Leo's instructions were clear. Harvey was listening to everything he said. If he was going to be making trips back and forth to Greensboro, he'd better learn to drive this dad gum thing.
After a rough couple of starts, Bobby handled the auto well. Harvey doubted he would catch on that quickly.
The children were all playing on the front lawn when they drove up. Bobby waved and his siblings came running.
“Bobby, you're driving an automobile!” said Teddy with a bit of envy in his voice.
“Next time it will be your turn Teddy,” Leo told him.
“Did you get the tent Bobby?” asked Willa.
“I plum forgot about the tent Willa.”
“Oh I'm so happy. Miss Addie said I could help her make a cherry pie tomorrow morning. Bobby, I don't want to leave here. I love it so much. I don't miss Mama as much when I'm here. I wish we could stay forever.”
“You know we can't Willa. Now don't upset the others. Go back to your games.”
“Bobby, I'd like to talk to you privately. We will go to Miss Millie's study where we won't be disturbed.”
“Did I do something wrong, Mr. Harvey,” Bobby said as Harvey closed the door behind him.
“No son, let me tell you what I have in mind.”
Harvey explained that he had spoken with Oscar Crowley about adopting the children. That might not be possible just yet because he didn't have a wife. However, he may be able to be named as legal guardian of them all. Being the oldest, Bobby would be making the decision to accept his offer or not. Bobby remained quiet as Harvey explained about the house being built. He had spoken to Reggie Blackburn earlier and there was a possibility the plans could be revised enough to add two additional bedrooms. The children would stay in Miss Millie's house until their new home was ready for them to move in.
“Mr. Harvey, do you have any other children?”
“No, Bobby. I have never been married and I don't have children.”
“We can be a handful you know. Mama would tell us that when we acted up.”
“Bobby, I have spent most of my life being a miserly old fool with no friends and nobody who cared whether I was alive or dead. In the last several weeks I have gained friendships I thought would never happen, I've fallen in love for the first time since I was not much older than you are, and I have discovered a family that I want and need and I think you might need me too. I only hope you want me to be your....maybe not father, how about grandfather?”
“Mr. Harvey, are you sure? I promise I will be a good son to you. I'll make sure the others are always on their best behavior. It won't be charity if you are our kin. When may I tell the children?”
“Bobby, I don't want any of you to be on your best behavior all the time. I want you just to be yourselves.”
“Mr. Harvey there is just one other thing. We don't need more than four bedrooms. I've already figured it out. You will have one, Teddy and I will have another, Stevie and Ralphie in the third and all the girls in the fourth. I don't think any of us could sleep in a bedroom alone.”
“I'll tell Mr. Blackburn to keep going just as planned. Oh, by the way, would you mind if someday Miss Margaret moved in with us?”
“I knew it was Miss Margaret you are stuck on. I think she likes you too. A man can tell things like that.”
“Lets go tell the other children. Maybe we'd better not say anything about Miss Margaret just yet. She hasn't said 'yes'.”
“Don't worry, she will,” Bobby said as he walked out into the yard. “Children, come give our new grandpa a hug.”
They all stopped their play and looked in Bobby's direction.
“Mr. Harvey is going to be our guardian. We will live in a house by the lake. He will adopt us when he asks someone to be his wife.”
Everyone, even the children looked in Margaret's direction.