The Last Jar of Grape Jam

This week I finished the last jar of grape jam. Let me explain why that is significant. Before moving to Connecticut, I lived in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. When I bought my house there, it came with a broken down, overgrown grape arbor.

During my first year in the house, my free time was spent “taking back” the grape arbor. I tore out the wild roses that had overtaken the grapevines and pulled down the rotten wooden arbor. I trimmed the healthy vines and removed the dead ones. When that was done, I asked my father if he would help me reconstruct the arbor. We measured the original structure (fifty-six feet long by twelve feet wide), calculated how many posts and how much lumber we would need, and got to work.

While we were working, a man came up and asked, “Are those vines still producing fruit? I remember my uncle planting them sixty-five years ago.” I was happy the man stopped to share this story. For me, it created a connection between me and the man who planted the vines long ago. I thought, “We are cut from the same cloth. We both believe in growing food and want to be outside in our yards.

During the years I lived at 63 Spring Street, I heard many stories about Mr. Franzone, the man who lived in the house years before me. He kept a huge vegetable garden and made wine from the grapes he grew. His wife made stuffed grape leaves with leaves from the grape vines. When his big Italian family visited—and they visited often, they all ate at a table under the grape arbor during the warm months. These stories were conveyed to me by neighbors and his relatives. Everyone had a story about the gardener who carefully tended this piece of earth before I came along.

When I bought the house, I felt at home with its sunny exposure—the fruit trees, the grape arbor, and the open spaces begging for gardens. I joked about “living off the land,” and in some ways I did, just as Mr. Franzone did, when 63 Spring Street was his home. I ate vegetables from my garden, canned pears from the trees in the yard, and made cases and cases of grape jam.

One day, Mr. Franzone’s grandson stopped by to talk. He mentioned that his grandfather was in the hospital and he was going to visit him. I thought, “Send Mr. Franzone jam.” I loved the idea that I could give something to this man who had indirectly given me so much. I was happy to share with him the product of both our labors. One jar of jam, two industrious gardeners, and many years of shared visions and values. I felt that some cosmic circle had been closed.

Six and a half years ago, I left Rhode Island. I sold my house to a family that was eager to learn to garden. I like to think they are hearing stories about two gardeners who once called 63 Spring St. “home.”

While preparing to leave my home on “The Hill,” I made eight cases (ninety-six 8oz. jars) of grape jam and potted two grapevines to take with me to Connecticut. A few weeks ago I ate the last jar of jam. As I watched the jam disappear, I was comforted by the knowledge that at that moment grapes were growing in my garden. The grapes are growing on vines from 63 Spring St.—Mr. Franzone’s grape vines. As I make jam this autumn, and this is the first year I have enough grapes to make jam, I will think of Mr. Franzone and our farreaching connection.

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