Draft 1, copyright 2012 Ginger Henry Geyer
Chlora is on a car trip with her grandparents...
Bypassing the Grape Festival
Chlora whined as the car crept past the entrance
to the annual Grape Festival.
Can we at least stop and get some good Catholic food?
No, darling, we must press on, after being slowed down by all this traffic.
We need to get to where we’re going before dark.
For several nights, from afar, she had seen
the sparkling lights of the carnival rides and booths
with the majestic ferris wheel commanding the horizon.
Once she was on the ferris wheel with her
boyfriend Sammy, and they got stuck on top.
She was afraid he might kiss her as that
was what boys attempt when the scenery is that good.
As Granddaddy drove close to the main gates
the clattering of the roller coaster commandeered the sounds.
Screams were repressed on the upward side of each hill
only to be released in mass on the downward thrill.
No wonder, that wooden roller coaster creaked and groaned
all the way up, and you had to hold your breath to keep the
thing from collapsing under its own weight.
The screams were both a cry of relief
and of feigned surprise.
The whoosh on the decline made you lose your stomach,
instantly followed by whiplash from a tight curve
that was even worse, or maybe even better because
you had courageously survived it.
Everybody knows that what goes up must come down,
but on this wild ride something primitive
inside your head hopes against hope.
That is how thrills work: you want them and you don’t.
Chlora would like to design a better roller coaster
with Tinker toys someday, one that could handle more cars
so kids wouldn’t have to wait in line so long.
The Tilt-a-whirl was flashy but not nearly as popular.
At least it was not laissez-faire
like the lazy fair merry-go-round.
Then again, that wasn’t quite fair.
Grown-ups thought the carousel was only for little kids,
but those painted ponies were wondrously weird,
impaled on golden poles,
their nostrils flaring and tails flying
even though they moved as slow as turtles
and elegantly as doves. Chlora loved to stand
absolutely still and watch the horses come and go
trying to pick out her favorite, giving them her own
beauty contest. This challenge was best accomplished
while eating a grape Sno-Cone. By the time it
got drippy she would have to decide which unique horse
should win the triple crown or the golden ring
or whatever, but by then she would be happily mesmerized
by the pairs moving up and down,
round and round, going nowhere.
Come on, can’t we just stop and see?
Maybe they’re crowning Queen Concordia now.
Grandmother raised her eyebrows,
disapproving of Chlora’s usual drivel about beauty pageants.
Chlora made fun of the Poultry Festival
with its Chicken Queen, and threatened to become
The Bean Queen or Pea Princess when she got beautiful.
Or maybe she’d enter the Poetry Festival instead
and be Miss Onomotopia.
Queen Concordia was her favorite beauty queen
because she didn’t have to parade around
in swimsuits and high heels.
But the candidates had to sell tickets and stomp grapes.
It was advantageous to have big feet.
One year at the Grape Festival Chlora gleefully
got into the grape stomp barrel
after the beauty contestants were finished.
She was determined to not be squeamish
like some of them had been, but it was sort of gross.
Good thing she had on shorts.
The concord grapes popped under her feet
like bubble wrap, and the juice squirted everywhere.
The grape mash got thicker as she marched around in it.
Hulls and stems and grape seeds clung to her feet
and tinted her toenails. It was surely better than a
fancy lady’s pedicure, and moreover, it was productive.
That is, if anybody dared drink that grape juice
after all those dirty feet had been in it.
Maybe her feet would ferment
if she stayed in the barrel long enough.
Somebody hollered hey Big Foot get outta there,
so Chlora climbed out, directly onto a new white T-shirt.
It got sprayed with vinegar to set the stain,
and her very own purple footprints were
now recorded for posterity, which was certainly
longer than the upcoming wine would last.
Her skin was purplish up to the ankles
and it took two days of scrubbing with lemon juice
to get her flesh back to normal.
On I Love Lucy there had been a grape stomp
in Italy, and Lucy got into a big fight and threw grapes at
an Italian lady who was irritated at Lucy’s laziness.
It was a hilarious Grapes of Laugh.
Lucy had just wanted to soak up some local color,
and she came out of that tank covered in it.
Chlora knew how she felt and she wanted to experience that
squishy, slippery situation again.
It was the next best thing to going to Italy.
Can’t we just stop and stomp some grapes?
Plus she yearned for a sweaty fistful
of tickets, color-coded for rides, food and events.
She desperately needed cotton candy.
Her mouth watered at the thought of slurping spaghetti
with the famous Italian meat sauce flinging up her nose.
She was morbidly curious about the freak shows
even though they were not p.c.
and Grandmother would never let her go
into one of those tents. She might come out with a beard
or worse yet, with an extra big toe.
Chlora longed to win an enormous stuffed animal
at one of the booths no matter how many coins it took.
She did not totally trust the tattooed carnies who
hawked their wares, because anything
too good to be true probably is false,
yet there was always a possibility of winning
if you held your mouth just right.
Those carnies acted like they were drunk
and they probably were,
after wallowing around in the vineyards all day
picking grapes, groping for fermentation
and drowning in their affliction like
Bacchus taking a bath in the grapes of wrath.
Loopy as ever, thanks to Michelangelo,
he’d holler Take this cup!
Drink deeply of this!
without knowing he sounded like a priest.
Then Bacchus would slip back under for more.
Chlora knew those carnies were migrant workers
on the side, because she recognized three of them
from the time she volunteered at the
migrant camp. That place had an awful smell
and it was awkward to go there, acting as if
you had something to offer those people,
like dignity was something that could rub off onto others.
The migrants had their own dignity and their own society
and the townies were not invited into it.
Most summers the fruits and vegetables the migrants came for
were so heavy in the hand they begged to be picked.
Grapes and berries would get so ripe
they fell off the vine and rotted on the ground.
But this summer was one long, miserable drought.
The migrants laughed and said they’d be
working nights at the Grape Festival
but it should be called the Raisin Festival.
Or the Raisin’ Hell festival.
Chlora asked one poor lady
How do you grow raisins?
Don’t you make vin santo out of raisins?
The migrants just looked at her.
She tried to explain that wine is transformed,
grape juice isn’t, so why do they serve us Protestants
Welch’s at communion instead of vin santo
like the Catholics get? How come they get
to have all the fun? Isn’t the Eucharist about joy
since after all, that word means thanksgiving.
Chlora asked if they were like the guys
in the parable of the vineyard workers
where they all got paid the same amount
even though some of them started later and slacked off?
Nothing made a Type A capitalist as mad as
did that parable. Was Jesus a socialist?
Grapes of wrath had been spilled over
that story with its status reversal.
It might whip up increased living wage laws,
and rile up people like Cesar Chavez
or John Steinbeck, or the ancient Hebrews
with their compassion corners dictated by Torah.
How come nice people got so bent outta shape
when generosity wasn’t deserved?
Isn’t that what grace is?
Grace and grapes.
Chlora asked the migrant kids if they sang
The Battle Hymn of the Republic
when they worked the fields:
My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
he has trampled out the vineyards
where the grapes of wrath are stored....
Surely a battle hymn is an oxymoron.
And surely so was the wrath of God,
as if unconditional love itself
has a finger on the cosmic Smite Button.
The kids all agreed we’d be better off singing
Isaiah’s love song for the unfruitful vineyard.
Chlora yakked about the grape festival so much
that Grandmother said they would stop at a produce stand
and get all the Concord grapes she wanted
if she could jew ‘em down. Do what?
On the outskirts of town hand-painted signs announced
the coming of a big huge fruit stand:
“TATERS & MATERS & THEN SOME”
The makeshift shelter was vivid with flowery tablecloths
over rickety tables piled high with market baskets.
Beside a small cash register
an infant scale held center court,
weighed down with an enormous Big Boy tomato.
That thing weighed about as much as Chlora’s little brother
did when he was born. He was a big fat rotten tomato now.
Ripening green grapes drooped from the arbor overhead,
while those in baskets were round and indigo blue.
Yes! These were the Concords, and Chlora snuck
one to suck on.
Grandmother said they’d take a watermelon
but she wanted to thump a few first,
sort of like thumping a Bible,
and did they mind if she shucked some sweet corn?
And they needed bing cherries, but only the hard dark
red ones. Plus some giant ripe tomatoes and
those grapes that her little granddaughter was giving the
truth taste to. Chlora plucked another grape
and squeezed the sour hull to pop the sweet slimy grape
into her mouth.
You making jelly, mam? Get these here muscadines.
What else? Weez outta peaches this late 'cept for some
imported all the way from Georgia,
but we do got local plums.
The hard plums had a purplish frost
on their skins but if you wiped it off,
the plum was more red than blue.
These is good for making your own prunes
to keep the engines running.
And I’ll throw in a cantaloupe. Here, sniff it.
Grandmother bought everything
they couldn’t grow at home and soon they were
loaded up like the Joads headed out for the promised land.
You always get more than you bargained for at a good
fruit stand, Jewish or not.
Grandmother handed Chlora a big basket of Concords
to snack on in the car. She felt like the Israelite spy who went
to Canaan and came back overloaded with grapey generosity.
Chlora sat on a rock while grandmother
piled her purchases in a bushel basket.
She expertly squished out grapes
and extracted the seeds
between her top and bottom teeth.
Could a person get drunk on grapes?
She hoped she’d get a buzz on like Bacchus.
Back on the road, Grandmother tossed her bing cherry pits
on the carpet mat in the car.
Chlora spit grape hulls and seeds right out the window.
After awhile she felt like she’d been on the roller coaster.
She tied her sweater around her neck
so that the wrath of grapes would stay down.
Instead of reading, which always exacerbated the nausea,
she played a game of Auto Bingo.
That made her look out the window.
Out here in the country there weren’t
too many things to bingo with.
But the rounded old hills in shades of blue and green
grew softer and grayer as twilight came.
The sky took on the indigo hue
of the grapes and melded with the hills.
The grapes finished their festival
and thankfully managed to stay
where they belonged, in Chlora’s stomach.
Stars began to come out, twinkling like guiding lights
for the car as it rambled south on the curvy road.
As indigo darkened into velvet black,
out came the moon and planets and more stars.
Stars, stars, stars, and then some.