My father's maternal side of the family came from Czechoslovakia. When they came over on the boat they initially settled in Connecticut (I only know that because just before conducting her memorial service, the undertaker gave me a list with all of my Grandmother's specifics on it, including her birthplace, which was new news to me) Somewhere along the line, they migrated to New Jersey and settled in the hamlet of Florham Park, outside of Madison, NJ in Morris county.
Things must have been rural for quite some time there..... because even when I was a child, my greatgrandparents still had a working chicken coop in the back yard. The coop, an odd conglomeration of this and that boards, covered in tar paper was surrounded by a small plot of barnyard, enclosed (you guessed it) in chicken wire.
It is very hard to know what their name was originally; some tired processor on Ellis Island thought he heard a name as thus and such - totally unable to be pronounced, and they ended up on this side of the pond with the name Kreheley (Cree-lee). Mary and John had their farm-style house, a cherry tree with a rudimentary swing, a barn containing an antiquated car, lots of tools like hoes, shovels, sickles. I found out much later that my great-grandfather had been on the team that spit rails and put up the first fencing around the property of the RC nuns in Convent Station, the telephone company and several very large estates, like the Dodge estate (on PBS you always see a plug for the Geraldine R. Dogde foundation.... that was her).
Back to the chicken coup. Growing up the outside of the coop were grape vines... concord grapes, as I recall.... tart and sweet at the same time. My Nanny would put up grape jelly and turn some of the juice into a particularly potent wine which was reserved for "medicinal purposes". Every now and then, one of the chickens would act up, trying to peck through the wire to get to the forbidden fruit. Nanny was ever vigilant with a broom handle, rather nimbly (in her 70's, now...) clumping down the back stairs in her apron, polka dot dress, orthapedic shoes, past the barn/garage, cherry tree and swing, landing a great thump on the top of the wire fencing. Grey/white hair piled in a kempt bun on the top of her head, she would stare down the offending chicken with one eye through her rimless glasses and warn "No. You next Sunday dinner". She was an early animal communicator. The chickens got the point.
Easter would often fall on/around Mother's day in my childhood and it was a custom.... started by Poppy to Nanny and my father to my grandmother to celebrate the occasion by presenting seedling tomato plants to the mother du jour. After all, this was a luxury, the plants were already started... and you could judge some which might make it over others. In the case of Nanny, my Uncle Bob (her youngest.... and about 5 years older than my father) had the honors of digging precisely where Nanny though the plants would thrive; Bob was later joined by my father Harold and his brother, Robert. After my grandparents married and later split up, my father bought my Grandmother tomato plants... and it became my job, and my sister and my cousin Rob to turn over the ground in the fencing in upper 40 (more like 10x10), putting down fertilizer, making mounds and furrows, burying them at the precise intervals she would measure.
My goodness, those tomatos were lavished with affection and conversation. They were also inspected and pruned regularly..... never with metal, always nipped between the thumb and the forefinger. Yellow leaves, gone.... perforated leaves misted.... and some branches just snapped off. She had a knack... she knew what needed to go and what tendrils could go on their merry way finally producing more branches a few tiny yellow buds, loosely tied with torn petticoat pieces to a sturdy stake in the middle.
Sure, there would be green beans and a few carrots and a couple of beets... but the tomato reigned supreme, under the watchful eye of this vinekeeper.
I am the Vine, you are the branches. The vinekeeper will prune away the dead foliage... and will also prune the good, to produce even better fruit. Supervision and correction, when incorporated, can be a very good thing if you choose even during the pruning time to be one with the plant, the Vine. Life will flourish in you if you stay connected to the Vine; apart from it, you can produce nothing on your own.... and if you strengthen that connection, your fruit will be beautiful and delicious and nourishing.
Each time I have my first Jersey "Big Boy" of the season, my memory is recollects all the vinekeepers who have gone before and the Creator vinekeeper who started it all. We are their fruit. May we ever be one with the Vine that nourishes us so that we, in turn, may nourish others. Amen and Amen.
Copyright © 2005 K.L.Joanna Depue and Deacon J