Throughout my childhood, I loved eating grapes that my aunt and uncle grew. The ancient vine was thick and gnarled as it wound its way up and across the large pergola that loomed over Aunt Claire and Uncle Larry’s patio.
Each September, mounds of sweet Concord grapes hung from the vine. My uncle tried making wine with the grapes but he never earned better than mixed reviews. For me, the appeal of the grapes was in giving a slight squeeze to pop the slippery insides into my mouth and then chewing the skin to get all its flavor, while only slightly chewing the rest of it to avoid crushing the seeds, which were to be swallowed whole.
My uncle grew his grapes in his New Jersey backyard, near where I grew up. He died in 2015 at the age of 94, shortly after Aunt Claire so, whoever bought their house also got the grape vine.
This year, my husband, Brent and I decided to summon our inner Uncle Larry and plant our own Concord grapes. Uncle Larry and Aunt Claire were childless but enthusiastically shared their many hobbies with their nieces and nephews, in addition to sharing their grapes.
Uncle Larry took us fishing, crabbing, bowling and hiking, plus digging for Herkimer “diamonds,” (Google it). The workshop in Uncle Larry’s basement provided its own entertainment as we watched him repair, build and create various wonders with mysterious power tools including our favorite, the lathe.
Aunt Claire and Uncle Larry hosted many large family gatherings made more fun with water cannons, rope swings, pinatas and more, all set against the backdrop of their lush vegetable garden, which featured a fig tree and of course, those Concord grapes.
Brent and I now also have an Uncle Larry-inspired fig tree, and a large oregano patch that began as a small clump we dug up from Aunt Claire and Uncle Larry’s own oregano plant.
But the grapes are the newest addition. We planted two Concord grape vines last fall. This spring, we erected chicken-wire cages around them when bunnies came nibbling. And then the grapes quickly grew big enough to need a proper arbor.
A YouTube search showed us many types of DIY arbors. We settled on a design that included two 4-by-4 by 8-foot pressure-treated posts sunk in concrete and strung with heavy-gauge wires passed through one-way anchors that enabled tightening without allowing the wires to slip out the other end.
My husband has been disabled for 27 of our 32 years of marriage, and although I’m used to doing all the manual labor around the house, I knew I’d need help with this project. Luckily, our adult son, Noah, and our adult daughter, Katie, and son-in-law, Nathan, were due for a visit in June.
Before the younger generation arrived, Brent and I purchased all the materials and I dug the post holes about half of the required 2.5-foot depth. I also did some of the drilling and attached some of the hardware, just to get things started.
Then, I switched to supervisor mode and let the kids do the hard work. Katie and Nathan finished digging the holes, lugged the bags of Sakrete and the 8-foot posts to the work area. They set the posts and filled the holes with Sakrete while I kept a level pressed to the post to keep things straight.
A couple days later, when the Sakrete was set and Katie and Nathan had returned to their home in New York, Noah did all the drilling and attached most of the hardware. Then, when he headed back to his home in Texas, Brent and I managed the finishing touches, including the actual stringing up of the grape vines, which seem much happier now that they have a rugged arbor on which to climb. It was the perfect group project.
The plants have already produced one small cluster of green grapes, that I hope will ripen into a deep purple this September, just as Uncle Larry would have liked.