In early spring the grapes are finally ripe. Gramps and I walk down the gravel driveway to the vines he planted last winter. They coil around the wooden poles and reach for the sun like threatened snakes. I listen to the sound of our shoes churning the small pebbles beneath our feet. We stop so I can pick a dandelion. Before I blow it out I make a wish, pretending it is a birthday candle. The wind sends the flaky white seeds spiraling into the air. When we finally make it to the vines, Gramps pulls out two large buckets, one for me and one for him. He plucks away at the purple clusters that hang beneath us while I stand beside him with my chin raised and eyes up. I am far too short to reach them. I turn my bucket upside down and stand on it, only for it to break beneath me. The sharp sound of cracking plastic causes Gramps to drop the bundle of grapes between his fingers and turn in my direction. One leg through the bucket, I stare at the shards at my feet and begin to cry. Gramps wraps his hands tightly around my waist and lifts me towards the vines. “Look, now you’re tall enough to reach ‘em!” he says. It takes nearly forty five minutes, but he lets me pick every grape until the bucket is filled to the brim.
Despite having numerous grapevines, Gramps always buys grape juice from the grocery store. Every morning I spend at his house, he cooks me scrambled eggs with grape juice to drink. Specifically Welches. Once I finish, we go to the garage and pick out a project to work on for the day. Sometimes he lets me saw wood, hammer the nails, rake the leaves. There is always something to be worked on. At the end of the day I use my sawdust coated hands to grip onto the rope that connects my favorite swing to the giant oak tree in the center of his backyard. He always pushes me and I prefer it that way. He never sends me too high or spinning around in circles. Like a steady pendulum I go back and forth, closing my eyes and imagining that I am hanging from the tallest tree in the world.
My mother and I drive to his house every weekend. I sit in the backseat and watch her. With a frisbee I took from Gramp’s garage during last week’s visit, I mimic her movements with the steering wheel and pretend I am driving. I stop my little game when I notice her sniffling. I lean towards the front mirror to see her face, hoping that it’s just allergies or the weather that’s causing her nose to run. She puts her sunglasses on and turns the car radio down. I put my frisbee back onto my lap. She tells me that Gramps is sick and that I need to spend extra time with him this weekend. Of course, I don’t listen to her. Nor do I really care or believe what she's saying. He is Gramps. He is invincible. He is in his late 70’s and chops wood for fun. He has always been in my life and as far as I knew, he would stay in it. We have plenty of time. Once she finishes her little speech I continue to play with the My Little Pony dolls on my lap, thinking about which one would stay in the car and which one would stay with me and Gramps.
When we finally get to his house, Gramps is standing behind the swing, and I immediately run towards him. He pushes me as usual. Not too high, not too low. The next time we visit I notice his breathing getting heavier while pushing me. I told myself it was just because I was growing and my weight might be making it harder for him. The visit after that he would grunt with each shove on the tire to propel me forwards. He told me he needed a break, walked in circles with his hands on his head, and then placed them on his knees and coughed. Afterwards he said we should go inside and get something to eat, that I must’ve worked up an appetite swinging and sawing wood all day. Reluctantly I follow him inside. But I don’t have much to be disappointed about. After all, he never once denied my request to push me.
Inside the kitchen I sit beside Gramps, our elbows resting on the cold kitchen counter. We eat pistachio seeds and drink grape juice in silence. I ask why he drinks so much grape juice and eats so many grapes and he explains that it’s good for your heart. That they contain antioxidants and help with blood pressure. I don’t know what that means, so I just smile and nod, licking the excess salt off my lips. I excuse myself to use the restroom, and when I come back he is leaning over the sink coughing. The sound in his throat is wet and forceful, like someone who is choking on their own saliva. He spits into the sink, and I see that it is blood. The moment my eyes take sight of it, I run out the door, into the woods, across the garage, and onto the swing. Angrily pulling the rope towards me, I swing my legs over the seat and launch myself facing my feet towards the tree trunk. Once my shoes are met with the crunching sound of old bark, I bend my knees and fly backwards. It is the first time I have ever pushed myself.
My mother and I go back home that night. The next morning she tells me that Gramps has died. I do not cry. Not at first. I run into my room and look around. The bed is the same, the dresser, the decorations. It is all still there, unmoved. I lock the bedroom door behind me and crawl inside my closet to think. I think of how I saw him only just yesterday and that people can’t go that fast. I think of his pale hand waving at us in the air as my mother drove down the pebbled driveway. I think about how familiar he still feels and that if we went to his house right now he’d probably still be there, standing behind the swing waiting for me.
A year after Gramps dies, my mother and I visit his house for the last time, trying to prepare it the best we can before the potential new homeowners come to check it out. I find it hard to imagine another family living there. Another man chopping wood in Gramp’s garage, pushing his granddaughter on the swing. I shake off my jealousy and walk to the grapevines. It is still late winter so most of them are green, but there are a couple of purple ones. I glance upon the same vine I thought was a snake and pick off the purple grapes. Some I place in a nearby bucket, some I put in my pocket to eat on the way back. The bucket doesn’t fill up, not even halfway. I begin to grow frustrated at my lack of progress but then look down at my hand. In my palm lies three perfectly ripe grapes from the vine. I am now tall enough to pick them on my own.