My daddy taught me how to harvest our grapes and plant and pick tomatoes. As I sit in my shorts, barefoot in the vineyard, I finally feel at home. I can smell the recently chopped up weeds and dirt, rocks crunching between my toes. As I pruned the bunches of grapes I can taste sweets delight. Luscious Grape juice ran down my fingers, I would lick each fingers not missing one ounce of juice. As early morning rises into early afternoon, my fingers begin to sting from the nicks and cuts from the pruning shears. My tummy is rolling half sick, wanteing to explode from the juice, and half hunger.I would have moved up the rows...ten, twelve, and fifteen in a matter of hours.
My mother wanted me home; but with sun-burnt face and searing August heat I stayed with the crew. They fed me lunch and cared for me like one of their own. There were mamas with suckling babies sleeping in bassinets. While they cradled their babies on one hand they would continue clipping each bunch of grapes, row by row, hour by hour. I would often volunteer to babysit the babies, lying with them in the shade, not quite ready to go home, listless and in a dream like state. You see, the vineyards are where I feel most comfortable, safe, secure and happy, this was my home.
My daddy let my brother's and I drop apples on Tarantulas in our yard. In the summer, Hundreds of thousands of gargantuan spiders would slowly slither across our yard covering every inch of ground to find their home for hibernation. My brother's and I must have been around the ages of 8, 10 & 11. We would hide from my mother who would send us to our rooms if she found us playing with them. We never feared either the Tarantulas or mom; we would take our time smashing the spiders with our half-eaten apples, unknowingly sometimes killing them.
My daddy taught my brother's and I how to laugh! One of his games included lying on our backs with our head on each others tummy. As we completed the circle, a small fit of laughter escapes and roaring laughter continues as we begin to beg to stop! Imagine someone's head on your tummy, every time you laughed the head bobbed and wobbled on your tummy. Not only does it look hilarious the bobbing causes hysteria.
My daddy used to let us ride our dogs. Yes, I said dogs! We owned two, St.Bernard's and rode them like horses. Bouncing up and down while holding on to their collars, we jogged them around our yard, racing each other and puppies on our heals. Who could imagine such a feat could be done. Thank goodness they weighed up to two-hundred pounds;we didn't hurt them, we loved them like family and we always fed them large treats when we were done.
My daddy gave me my first horse, his name was Alex. I would ride him daily in the fields and grape-vines. I remember it was my first taste of freedom; running through the wild grass as fast as I could, holding on with all my strength, my hat billowing on my head. Yes that was freedom. I had a horse trainer who taught me to show my horses and ride with honor, strength and courage. I'm a western girl and showed him at competitions and at the fair. I always thought I would become Grand Champion and make my parents proud. Although that never occurred I tried my best and I will never forget the excitement and freedom of riding that horse.
My daddy taught me how to work on cars and jeeps. He taught me how to change my fluids, oils, tighten nuts and to four-wheel drive. I was driving by the time I was ten years old on our property of two-hundred and fifty acres of grapevines. By the time I was sixteen, he gave me his jeep to drive to school and back.Imagine me, the only girl in school with a jeep, I felt like a queen.
By the time I was in my twenties, my dad, brother's and I four-wheeled one of the toughest, roughest high mountain trails in the country. It's called the Rubicon and it takes about four days to trek twenty-one miles of boulders. Rated ten for it's difficulty, I became one of the icons of the trail. There are perhaps ten percent female drivers. One year I was featured in "Four-Wheel Drive magazine when my jeep was about to roll - here I am with two rock-rollers holding me down. I am grateful to say my jeep and I survived. I can remember my dad's smile when he brought home ten copies of the magazine spread.
My daddy taught me the importance and value of the family business. Our family business has been making wine for over one-hundred and fifty years; America's Oldest Winemaking Family. He offered for me to come to the winery and help all of the departments with mailing, sorting, counting, and stuffing. Working at the winery was the first time I felt like I belonged somewhere, all the employees were like my family and I quickly began to work my way up the ladder. Spending fifteen years in accounting at my father's side, his right-hand lady.
My father no longer called me sunshine; he began to see his little girl grow into a young successful woman. Although I missed sunshine, Heather was my grow-up name and we now called each other by our first names, communicated from owner to manager no longer father to daughter.Yet his eyes told me I was still his little girl and he was watching out for me.
About eight years ago, my father asked me if I would like to travel and sell wine for the family. It was a difficult decision and would require I come out of my shell; become a sales person, the face of the brand, T.V. appearances and radio. Leaving for the sales department I felt as if I was abandoning my dad. We kept in touch but I was so busy and exhausted from traveling it was difficult to see him every day.
I had grown to be a mother and wife. I visited my parents often but still seem to miss them dearly; you see they became parents again; to a angelic little sister who was two years younger than my oldest son. She became their new little sunshine and were quite busy fulfilling her needs as a young child.
In a quick and rash decision, I chose to move almost two hours away and work for the "number one wine company in the world". This liaison between their wine company and ours would benefit both companies and great success would be forthcoming and longstanding.
It was a very difficult transition for me to leave my home, the winery and my family. I had a mental break-down and quickly found help and finally after five years I have come to some acceptance about leaving home.
I had been gone for about two years when my mother called to tell me my father was very sick, he never took off time from work...that weekend he didn't move and didn't want to go to the hospital. They shortly found that he had cancer, it was devouring his body very quickly, he was dying before our eyes.
I spent several weeks at my father's side while he was sick. I took care of his medical needs and spent time alone with him. Sometimes we would sit in silence, sometimes in laughter. We cooked meals together, picked roses together, talked with each other, laid in the sun with one another. Just being together was the biggest gift for us both.
As the weeks passed my father lost most of his weight, became weaker by the day, he continued to see specialists to find a way to live; he never gave up. I never gave up on his life, his business or being his little girl. I could no longer stay and watch my father die, for I felt as if I was dying too. I had to say my goodbye's and return home, running away from my imperfection and the insanity of death.
I received a call from my brother a short two weeks later that my father had passed. It was the saddest day of my life.My heart dropped to my feet, my stomach queasy and my eyes rolling...for the first time I had lost the dearest,closest person in my life.
It has taken me five years to accept that my father is gone. I tried running to escape the pain, I tried numbing the pain, ignoring the pain, to no avail. Until I went to counseling and began writing about him and all of his characteristics, I could not get past the pain. Slowly I have begun to accept that he is gone and today I am learning to celebrate the memories instead of his death.
I always remember that my daddy loved me just by his smile and his loving hazel eyes...they were compassionate and caring. My daddy didn't speak much; he was a man of mind; with little words spoke, but his eyes told his story, his thoughts and feelings too. I too am quiet now and speak through a pen with my heart. I no longer sell our wine but my brother carries on the legacy and my son has dreams of following in our footsteps.
The only way I know how to live life is by the example my father left...this poem is a reflection of my re-birth and his death.