I walked toward the old rundown log cabin and shook my head at the rusting nineteen-sixties trailer that stuck out along the back of it. Despite my grandpa being wealthy, we’d lived there for several years after my parents had died.
I used to tell my grandpa that when I grew up, I’d fix up the log cabin and live here on the farm.
He just laughed at me. The cabin wasn’t likely restorable, but it was a nice dream.
Even all these years later, I still loved this land, though not necessarily its location. It sat halfway between Mayville, where I went to school, and Crawford City, our bitter rivals.
Ironically, for a time, our mill had been the only one used by Mayville and Crawford City alike. But that was before the Civil War, back when the silenced mill was hopping with activity and the rotting log cabin was newly built.
The old mill still stood proud next to the stream, looking more or less how I remembered it as a kid. The water wheel, which had rotated for more than a century and a half, had stopped turning since I’d left. I could still hear the rhythmic sound of churning water in my memories, though.
As I roamed around the property, I parked myself on the mill’s plank bench—another thing that’d been here for generations—and basked in the beauty of the old place. I had missed it, missed home.
After I went to college, my widowed grandpa met and married Elizabeth Carey from Crawford City. Elizabeth, who went by Beth, was first cousin to the beloved Crawford City Cross sisters and was wealthy in her own right. Ms. Beth owned a nice brick ranch house in Crawford City, just a short distance from her cousins’ Victorian mansion. That was where my grandpa lived now.
I didn’t visit often. That might have made me an awful grandson, but I had my reasons.
“I need you, son…” my grandfather had said while I sat next to him in the hospital. “You know I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t…”
“I know, Grandpa, I’ll be there. You can count on me until you’re better,” I’d reassured him.
Of course, I’d told him that. My grandpa was my family, the last of my family. Sure, I had a few relatives left on my mom’s side, but we’d never been close. Not like me and Grandpa. I’d honestly do anything he needed me to do, even though I didn’t really want him to know that.
The week he got out of the hospital, I’d come back to stay with him and Ms. Beth. That was when he’d told me he was turning the old farm into a winery.
“Grandpa, you don’t drink,” I said, laughing.
“Well, I don’t, much. Before you say anything, the good book says, don’t drink much, not don’t drink at all. Besides, my sweet Beth likes her wine, so I’ve been playing with the idea off and on for a while.”
He paused like he was waiting for me to contradict him, and when I didn’t, he continued. “Anyway, I need you to tend to those vines until I get the use of my body again,” he’d told me.
I shook my head as the old religious teetotaler completely shifted his ways in front of me.
Although the stroke hadn’t been bad, it had partially paralyzed his left leg, and his left arm was pretty weak as well. Still, the day he returned home, he began pushing for me to take him to the mill property.
“I want to show you how to do it,” he insisted.
Ms. Beth nodded her agreement, saying the doctor had told him, as long as he took it easy, it was fine.
I sighed and agreed to his demands.
He talked about the vines and how to care for them, the amount of water they needed, when to let them get dry, and how to use manure from the local chicken farm to provide nitrogen. I had no idea about most of it, and since we’d never farmed the land we lived on, I hadn’t learned about farming.
“Grandpa, you’re gonna have to write all this down. I’m not a farmer. I’m an artist.”
He nodded. “And a good one too. Don’t you forget that, son.”
That made me smile. Grandpa had always encouraged my artistic abilities. What he hadn’t been able to deal with was my sexuality, and it wasn’t ever something we talked about directly. I largely attributed that to the intolerant church he attended, and donated huge amounts of money to. But he’d embraced my choice of occupation with no effort.
After graduating, he’d put me on an allowance, saying, “Anyone with a gift like yours needs to focus on that and leave the corporate bullcrap to those less fortunate.” He’d meant those who didn’t have artistic abilities, not financial. Despite the wealth my grandpa had acquired, he didn’t think money made him better than anyone else.
The only reason Grandpa had money was because he never spent any. When his father sold the government a huge portion of the land our family owned to make a reservoir, my great-grandfather had invested the money, which then turned into more money, and so on and so forth.
I’d used Grandpa’s allowance to pay for a warehouse in Lebanon with a small apartment attached. “Live close to the bone,” he’d admonished me all my life, even as a young adult. I had done so and now I appreciated the values he’d taught me, because living on a tight budget allowed me to live the life I loved. It allowed me to paint and not to have to hawk my wares, like every other artist I knew.
“Wow,” I said as we walked into the young vineyard, Grandpa hanging onto my arm for balance. “This is like you see on TV!” Beautiful rows of grapes grew along a hillside that’d always been leased out to a local cattle owner. I’d never thought much about this part of the property, since the mill and cabin had always been my favorite.
I had to admit, however, I might be changing my mind. There was something magical about the vineyard. My fingers began to itch for my brushes. I could almost imagine what the area looked like in the late evening as the sun set over the forest that bordered the vineyard to the west.
I must’ve stared at the property for a full fifteen minutes, imagining how the scene would unfold on canvas. I’d all but decided I’d want to paint it in watercolor. I could see the muted tones melting into one another when I heard my grandpa clear his throat, snapping me out of my reverie.
When I looked over at him, he chuckled. “You were imagining it as some of your art, huh?”
I smiled. “You caught me. It’s just so pretty, Grandpa. You’ve done something wonderful here.”
He nodded over to an old nineteen-twenties barn that had been leased out to the same cattle rancher. I’d actually never been inside the building, but when we walked in, I stopped dead in my tracks.
The old barn had been converted into a usable space, with concrete floors and boarded walls. It even had electricity and, apparently, running water.
You couldn’t tell all that from the outside, which looked sort of run-down and rustic like it always had.
“When did you do this?” I asked as we walked back out.
“It was finished a couple months ago,” he said, sounding a little discouraged. “I have all the wine-making equipment in here, but now I’m too feeble to do much with it. I’m hoping you’ll take over, though.”
I just stared at the building as Grandpa stood silently beside me, letting me consider his proposition. I had no intention of coming back to this hateful part of the world. Visiting once in a while was doable, especially whenever Grandpa and Ms. Beth needed my help, but live here? Lebanon was about as rural as I wanted to get, and to be honest, if I’d had more money, I’d probably have moved to Nashville.
Not that I got out much, and forget dating… most of the time, I just wanted to stay home and paint or cuddle up with a book. I wasn’t much for socializing. I guessed that made me a recluse, but whenever the subject came up, I’d tell people I was a serial introvert.
“Grandpa, thank you, and I’ll help as long as you need me, but I can’t see myself living here, and I sure as hell can’t see myself getting this place up and running. I’m an artist, not a farmer, or whatever they call people who run vineyards.”
Grandpa chuckled. “Son, I know this will all be uncharted territory for you. But someone has to oversee what’s going on, and you and my sweet Beth are the two people I trust most in this world. As for the grape growing, I already put feelers out for someone to come run the vineyard, and I’ve hired a man who’s coming from California to help. He knows his stuff, and has already been here to tour the place.”
I nodded. “Sounds like you already got it all set up,” I said, feeling better about the whole thing. “At least I won’t have to learn how to make wine and actually run a vineyard.”
“Well, see, there’s a problem. He won’t arrive until after harvest, because he’s still under contract with his current employer, but he’s provided instructions on what to do. We’ll have to pick, sort, and destem the grapes, then do some crushing and get them into the processing units to begin fermenting.”
“And you want me to do all that?” I asked.
“I want you to supervise. But yeah, you’d need to do some of it,” he said. “The new guy will be here to manage most of the fermentation process.”
My grandpa hardly ever asked for my help, and he clearly needed it now. He’d raised me after my parents died, paid for my education, and had been sending me a nice allowance every few months since I’d graduated. I could and would do this for him, despite all of my personal reservations.
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