Uncle Favio sat in the backyard enjoying his cigar. He was watching over the muscadine grapes along our back fence, entwined with the wisteria vines. Something kept stealing the grapes and Uncle was determined to catch the villain.
Having recently emigrated from Tuscany, he had to make do with muscadine wine in our Alabama climes and actually acquired a taste for it.
“Teppisti no good!” He shook his fist in the air upon discovering that something or someone was eating the grapes.
“He’s saying ‘no good hoodlums’,” Mom translated.
“How’s he know its hoodlums?” I asked.
Mom shrugged her shoulders and laughed.
I felt like my uncle always looked at me with a bit of suspicion, but Mom said it was just his big mustache and his bushy eyebrows that made him look that way.
Every day my uncle counted the grapes remaining on the vine, the ones not quite mature enough to harvest. “Teppisti no good!” became his mantra.
One afternoon my friend Dave called. “You up for a game of one-on-one?”
“You bet’cha,” I answered. “Meet at the park?”
“Nah, I’ll walk over to your house.”
Dave arrived and got the usual suspicious perusal from Uncle Favio. “What’s up with him?” whispered Dave.
“It’s all the hair on his face, makes him look kind ‘a crazy. Well, ok, he probably thinks you’re stealing his grapes too.”
“You kidding? Someone’s filching candy from Dad’s store too.” Dave went back outside.
“Hey, I saw some little kids with purple fingers nearby yesterday. Could be your grape thieves.”
Uncle Favio stared blankly at him.
“My uncle doesn’t know much English. Hey, let’s go”
Over the next few days I checked around to see if I could spot any kids with the tell-tale color on fingers or faces.
Uncle Favio kept up his monitoring and his mantra of aggravation.
Then one day, I saw them; a couple of smaller kids sneaking past the fence. I’m no bully but I was ready for an end to the daily dose of my uncle’s diatribe. I nipped round a corner and surprised them.
Spotting me, the two boys took off down the alley.
I was in hot pursuit.
They angled across another yard and between two houses, flying.
I was catching up.
They hit the pavement of a driveway and dropped something. All I saw was a fuchsia smear as I skidded; my feet went skyward and my rear end hit the ground hard.
Picking myself up, I glance hurriedly around hoping no one saw. “Teppisti no good,” I muttered.
Now with evidence in hand (or on foot) I enlisted Dave, and we set to work to catch those young “teppisti”.
A nearby oak tree afforded a vantage point where we could perch and watch. As we climbed up we evidently disturbed a pair of nesting doves or pigeons – I can never tell the difference – and they “cooed” away.
Settling in we unwrapped our Purple Cow suckers that Dave had brought from his dad’s drug store, and waited.
Our vigilance was soon rewarded. The same two little boys were coming along the alley.
Dave trained his binoculars on them. “Hmm…not sure but they seem to be eyeing those grapes.”
I leaned out to see.
The boys stopped by the fence, their backs to us. It was our opportunity to catch them red-handed – or purple, hopefully.
Climbing down cautiously from the tree we slipped across the alley and waited behind a neighbor’s fence.
Soon the boys walked by and we grabbed them. The one I caught started yelling. I clamped my hand over his mouth while he squirmed and kicked.
Dave was bigger than me and had hold of the larger of the two kids. “Open your hands!” he demanded.
The kids stopped struggling. I guess it was Dave’s deep voice. They looked scared.
I took my hand away from my kid’s mouth. My hand was sticky.
Dave’s kid opened his hand. It was full of jelly beans.
“You kin have ‘em, mister!” Dropping the jelly beans the two juvenile candy kleptos ran off.
“Well, that solves the mystery of my Dad’s jelly beans, anyway,” said Dave.
A few days later, Mom asked me to drive Uncle Favio to the store to buy more cigars.
I backed the car out of the drive.
Sploosh! Something purple and nasty hit the windshield.
The cooing muscadine thief disappeared into the oak’s branches.
“Gesu’, abbi pieta!” my uncle shook both fists at the tree.
Caught ‘em, red-hand…or…purple-beaked!
Gesu’, abbi pieta ~ Jesus, have mercy!
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