We gather in the cellar, with half-filled racks of wine, and the cool, dank smell of earth and foot-thick, concrete walls, to "taste" some red wine which as my sisters note is in fact "drinking" red wine, since I pour half-glasses of the stuff. But it is a good way to start our Thanksgiving dinner at my dad's old farm where our family has not gotten together for three years.
Even my college-age niece and nephews who don't normally drink wine at family dinners decide to sip a bit, along with a friend from France who is going to UC Santa Barbara. And then they decide to tromp around the eight acres of land on their own, checking it out.
My dad had placed the farm in trust, ultimately going to his grandkids, and they are starting to realize, as I did working on the place recently, how beautiful the trees and the birds and the water run are, set in the curves of the earth rising from the creek.
They see my dad's old books that weresinged in the fire and set out for the insurance adjustor to evaluate, and they ask to move them into the barn, where they will be protected from rain. With the energy of that age, the four youths make quick work of gettingthe large number of heavy boxes moved inside,noting in the process a collection of old and liberal campaign buttons for Kennedy, for the CDC (California Democratic Council) and against "Ronnie" (Ronald Reagan) which collection gets the ultimate college approbation of "cool!"
With my sisters Iwalk around the house which has been renovated from top to bottom, preserving the old forms and some cabinetry and the doorway into the house. They admire the construction, the heavy wood floors in the bedrooms and the stone in the other rooms, and the black and white photos taken by my dad, printed large and hung on some of the walls.
I had arrived at the farm early to slice slivers from a couple heads of garlic and stuff them into cuts in a five-bone rib roast. Not to be outdone, my sister and brother-in-law and his brother have hooked up a deep fryer outdoors and stuck a turkey in it, with the odor wafting up the hill.
We sit at the old family table, that has been refurbished, with a fold-up table that works as an extension, and consume prime rib, turkey, roasted, quartered potatoes with rosemary and green beans. As the evening settles in, I start a fire that pops and crackles and lights the next room in the trembling glow of the flames.
The bottles of my favorite wine, Crane Family, come and go. We talk about the fire that swept through the farm a month ago, and how miraculous it seems that the house was missed, with the flamesall around. The conversation jumpsto my youngest sister's introduction to the somewhat puritanical family of her husband and how she was appreciated for giving hugs to everybody, which nobody in that family was in the habit of doing.
Although politics is a frequent topic of conversation at family dinners, the conversation never seemed to settle on it this time. The talk just seemed to flow along. With home-made pumpkin pie and a couple bottles of Veuve Clicquot champagne, I offer a toast to the old man whose spirit, I say, "is alive and well and residing here."
As the darkness above deepens - and the night gets so deep and black at the farm - we pile outside to look at the full moon. In the darkness and the clear air, it shines incredibly bright and lights the landscape below, the burnt fences and remaining trees, in a faint, white light.
With that, dinner is done. The generations, in-laws, guests from abroad all pile into cars and wind their way across the narrow bridge across the creek and out the front gate. I stay for a moment and offer the old man a bit of wine in the glimmering of the moon, and I too head on out.
It took a good part of the night before the feeling I had wore off, and, like the atmosphere at dinner, it was hard to put a finger on. It was not exhilaration or excitement, it was not depression or sadness, it was a deep, powerful, absolutely steady and incredibly sweet feeling of - I would have to say - happiness. And it must have come from the farm.
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