A Cancer Survivor’s Project

Yesterday afternoon was bright and balmy, with that distinctive autumnal sunlight which always seems to slant obliquely, casting long shadows.

Lanky wild sunflowers and clumps of goldenrod lined the gravel roads. I was tooling down a road near Payson, Illinois in my trusty old Ford Aspire, leaving a wake of churned-up limestone dust behind me like a billowy tail.

I noticed some people engaged in planting a tree in a open field near a house and there seemed to be some sort of arrangement of posts and wires nearby. I made a delivery down at the end of the road, and on my way back I pulled over and approached the people, curious as to what they were up to.

A young man was operating a gas-powered post-hole digger. A couple of bagged and burlapped blue spruce trees waited stoically nearby. Evidently the young guy was digging planting holes.

A stout man in his fifties calmly watched the digging process from the seat of a green-and-yellow John Deere four-wheeler. He didn’t look like a farmer; his dress and general demeanor suggested to me that he was a lawyer, judge, or county functionary. The scene:

I walked up to the stout man and said:

“Howdy! Looks like you have quite a project going on here! Are those grapes planted over there?”

“Yep, that’s my son’s project. He set them out this spring. It’s been so damned dry this summer, but he managed to keep them alive. Who are you, by the way?”

I introduced myself and we shook hands.

We talked desultorily about the trials of grape growing, the former prevalence of vineyards in the county before Prohibition, and why I had a flashing red light on the top of my car.

I asked about the bird-netted vineyard on the Plainville Blacktop which I photographed last week.

“Whose vineyard is that?”

“Oh, gosh, I should know that guy’s name! He’s married to my sister, after all! Truth to tell, I really don’t know what he does with all of those grapes. His vine’s are really loaded down this year, aren’t they?”

“So what’s the idea behind this vineyard?”

“Well, my son is just twenty-three years old, young enough to take on such a long-term project. He’s a cancer survivor. He had a relapse this spring, after he had planted the vines, and we’re waiting for him to return from the hospital. He just had surgery and they think he’s cured. He needs something to keep him active and occupied while he recovers.”

“Interesting! Well, I’d better take off. Nice to meet you!”

Larry

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