The fragrance that wafted up from the wine cellar had me in its grasp from the moment I opened the basement door. Within a split second an image of my dad crushing grapes in the adjoining garage resurfaced from somewhere deep in my memory, and my heart pounded against my chest like a heavy knock at the door of my consciousness. The sadness of his passing was still fresh in my eyes, and the many tears of the past month washed over my face once again as I held on to the railing and climbed down the stairs.
"But I donít know anything about wine," I had said to my wife that morning. "He was the connoisseur."
"But he left it to you," she had replied. "Maybe he meant it like a gift that would help you savor your memories of him."
"He and I never really got along, Wendy, you know that. All he cared about was his wine. As long as it was good, he was happy. If it was bad, heíd throw it out. And he pretty much did the same with me."
"Okay." She put her hand up like it was a stop sign. "I get that he didnít love you the way you wanted. Still, all Iím saying is that you canít just leave those barrels to rot away in the basement. Especially if you want to sell the house."
"I know," I admitted. "Iíll get rid of them somehow."
But now that I was gazing at my dadís pride and joy in the basement of his house, my wifeís admonition intruded into my resolve to pour the wine down the drain. As much as I hated him sometimes, I also often loved him quietly. He used to tell me that the art of making wine had been passed on from one generation to the next, and had been refined over the centuries. With my dad, it had also been transported from the old country to America, from their old hands to our young mouths.
It would be sacrilegious to his memory, and to the memory of his ancestors, to simply decant the wine into a drain. It took a descent into my dadís cellar to make me realize that this was much more than just wine. This was my heritage. Too bad I didnít come to this awareness while he was still alive.
I walked over to the kitchen cabinet he had installed in the basement a few years back, found a wine glass and washed it clean. I stepped back towards the barrels of wine, and surveyed the private collection. There werenít any markings on the barrels, no names, no nothing. But I bet my dad knew by heart exactly what was contained in each one.
I poured some wine from one of the barrels into the glass. I raised the glass towards the overhead light to examine the wineís color, and observed a magnificent light burgundy. Bringing the glass to my nose, I inhaled the sweet aromatic bouquet. Fruity, for sure, with a hint of alcohol that suggested the art of a master. I took a sip, and washed the smooth liquid over my tongue and palette. And I swallowed the intoxicating nectar. A taste of exquisite splendor warmed my throat and esophagus. An aftertaste of oaken coarseness tingled in my mouth.
I kept my eyes closed for the longest time, and I could feel the tears behind my eyelids. Did I ever tell my dad how delicious his wine was? Did I ever tell him in a way that was meaningful to him? I shook my head, regretting the void of such a dear memory.
My dad was no saint, and Lord knows he had many weaknesses and character flaws. But here I was now drinking of his wine, too late to sit at a last supper with him, too late to hear him offering it to me in memory of him. I who believed so faithfully in Jesus Christ as a model of the prophet we each seek in our own lives, I remained blind to the eternal spirit in my own dad, until all I had left was his spirit.
I poured some more wine into the glass, and took a deep whiff of its fragrance like it was a first breath. Then, alone in his cellar, in this house that I knew I couldnít sell anymore, I toasted the happiest memories of my dad - the winemaker.
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