A few weeks later Zito and Tina announced that Tina was with child. It seemed that half the island knew. Tomassino hadn’t spoken to anyone since the meal I made them, instead he stayed home and did not receive visitors. We were all beginning to worry when one morning a knock on my door woke me before dawn. It was he, sharp and certain in himself again. Without speaking he reached out and took my wrist and led my from my door. It was not their custom for a man take another man’s wrist that way, but he made me feel as though I was a child being brought along by a father and I must admit I enjoyed letting him bring me to the vines.
Once there amongst the knotted perfects rows of fruit trees wrapped to shape, Tomassino explained his plan to me. He wanted me to enter his family’s business and bring my skill from the kitchen to the giant vats of wine which the grapes became. He talked of his own father and his brothers and their struggles during the war that had also savaged their land. He told me how the fire of that war had all but destroyed their stock, both in their home and on their fields. He walked me to where he people were buried, a small walled cemetery on the fringes of the family land. Then one by one he introduced me to his kin. His father and grandfather was represented by nothing more than a grass plots, not even headstones. His brothers were lined up side by side, and there, the pristine grave of Carmela lay separate from the others, flowers planted along the edge of her bed. Tomassino then stood next to Carmela’s resting place and told me how Zito was not a man for such business, that the love and grace in the grave by our feet would be lost forever if I did not carry on their work. It was hard to say no to such a potent request but I did not accept his offer, instead I asked Tomassino if he would teach me. I could not take on his family’s legacy and become the man he wanted me to be, but I would do all in my power to help him.
Tomassino’s wisdom came forth then and the sadness of his ailing bloodline seemed to shift. He nodded. He smiled, staring at Carmela’s grave, then turned and began to walk back to the house, his hands in his pockets, waving me on with a turn of his head. I loved him in that moment. He had made me his son and not disowned me despite my not accepting his most intimate offer. He was a good man.
That very day I began to learn the art of wine. I had never thought I would come to such a role, but it was both intriguing and satisfying. I enjoyed the intricacies. There was centuries of knowledge and a sense of all the souls that had come before us, a family which I had never known. The immense fields on which I had laboured for so long soon felt much smaller than they had when I worked them. And Tomassino was reinvigorated through the interest in which I took. It was an time of actual joy.
Whether my employer intended it or not I will never know, but within one season Zito flared up at his father that he would teach an outsider the family’s ways. Arguments ensued and a bitter simmering chimed in the fields, but Tomassino stood fast. He first denied his son a say in such matters in which he was not invested. Zito of course took offense and claimed shame on the family but the father knew the son and he twisted Zito’s anger until it was all but unbearable. On one night in particular while Tomassino and I read the ledgers of the estate Zito entered his father’s home drunk and belligerent. I knew well enough to say nothing and all I could do was watch as the son rose up in fury only to be faced with a father’s blind love. Just as Zito was about to throw a punch and soil is already failing honour Tomassino threw open his arms and used his wisdom to beg his son to come and be the man that their ancestors had always wished he would be. The father spoke of his unborn grandson and prayed aloud that in turn the child would one day walk his own grandsons through the field that bore his name. Zito roared, but he roared a wail of sinful regret. He took a knee at Tomassino’s feet and placed the palm of his right hand on the top of his father’s foot.
And so the family name was kept. I saw this with my own eyes and I can tell you myself that it was a thunderous and beautiful thing to bear witness to. I can tell you also, it did bring my own father to me. I have lost all but the smallest shards of memory of the man. I remember his hands and his smile and his loving way, but little else. I was too young then to remember more now. But I felt him as I watched Tomassino and Zito embrace. I felt his love for me as I did on every single day that he still graced this world with his presence. It has remained with me always since, that feeling of my father’s presence.
Life underwent a substantial change then. Zito and Tomassino paired into a single unit of drive and passion that was both fascinating and tender and also inspiring. While I had begun to enjoy learning about wine making I was glad for the family that they had sown up the void that had emerged. And as I watched them grow into something more than they had been Luke and I grew closer too. We hosted the meal that marked the birth of Zito and Tina’s son, whom they named Jakub. I was overwhelmed when they told me, even more so in light of having no children of my own to name. Thus it was with a heart more full than it had ever been that I held a feast for my new family. Tina’s sisters and her parent attended and baby Jakub sat in a small throne made from a wine cask and lined with olive leafs. I served a small pig on a spit and made sure that all of it was either eaten or fed to the dogs so that nobody could later unveil my lie. There were salads with cream and cucumber slices and others with potatoes and sundried peppers. I lined up glass after glass of cheery trifle and soon the two hour window fell shut. The people of the island seldom did such things in a quiet way and there were trumpets and a parade of all ten guests up and down the vineyard slurping and spilling most of their obligatory glasses of parading wine. It was one of the warmest and sweetest of days. Life and love seemed to radiated out the rocks and the soil and though Tina cried Tomassino comforted her and bounced baby Jakub on his knee to the child’s delight. It was family. It was clean. It was too good.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey