Fall is a glorious time in the wine country just as it is in New England. The end of August starts the harvesting of rich ripe grape clusters and continues through the beginning of September while the work of crushing and fermenting is usually complete by mid October. Then the wine has been put to a long eighteen months rest in new oak barrels. By the end of October the fall celebrations are under way and autos full of people are flocking to the highways watching the leave first turn varying shades of yellow then red and finally that dark brown that marks the end of their yearly lives. Later when soft rains of Thanksgiving fall they will be disked into the ground and provide the nutrients for the vines. This work is done each year around the world, from France, Italy, Germany, and many other countries on the European continent to America, Canada, and Mexico on the North American continent to India. It is an age old practice from the time man first harvested grapes and made wine.
Michael and Paula had invited me to their vacation home in the wine country, a modest bungalow that had belonged to his parents, a wedding gift for the couple. The last of the turning leaf army had straggled back to congested cities and suburban tracts of ticky-tacky yet the leaves still retained the last vestiges of color as if they had waited on my approval. I approved most gratefully and thanked them for their patience. The dark grey stone gave the house a sense of age and presence, a lesson of endurance for the younger stucco that sometimes crowded the hillsides. Michael’s great grandfather had built that house before the turn of the last century, the tremors that so delight the inhabitants in the coastal cities had failed to even move it out of square. Most of the original land tract had been sold to a couple of grape growers but Paul had one or two acres left on which he tended the few apple and plum trees clustered around the house. One sprawling oak dominated the property, it was planted in 1895, not long after the house was built. The gravel lane from the main road was half hidden and one had to traverse a little more than a mile up that path to the top of the hill. I remember the first time I was on that crest, the view was impressive as fog press the colors into grey wisps and flowed like the sea across row after row of vines. It was a million dollar view that I hoped would never be disturbed.
Sam, golden retriever greeted my car with an air of authority and waited until I opened the door to give me close inspection. Michael followed behind and gave the command, “Sam, sit!” Which he did as a good and obedient dog should. “I have to watch Sam, he likes to jump up on strangers. Never could break him of that habit, don’t know where he picked it up.” “Maybe from Paula” I said. We both chuckled at the thought. And on cue, Paula came running out of the house and leaped into my arms with a welcoming, “Hello, stranger.” Michael and I both looked at each other. I put her back on her feet and she led the way to the door. Michael had my overnight case in his hand while Sam brought up the rear. “It’s a stunning time of year, thank you two for having me.” Paula spoke in the quiet but assertive manner of hers, “We love it here when we can get away. And you know we love having you stay with us.” We walked through the door and Michael took me to my room, a cozy little place just large enough for a regular bed, a wash stand and a small dresser. The view out the window more than made up for it’s lack of size.
In what used to be called a common room and not is today’s open concept, we sat and sipped a glass of white wine. Two of the old growers always gave Michael and Paula a couple cases of their yearly vintages as a gesture of good will. The couple snuggled on the couch while I reposed in the wingback. Paula knew I had a preference for the old wingback style and had added this one to their decor, ridding themselves of that hideous barrel type one considered chic decades ago. Their style of living here, away from the pretence of the city, was one of old comforts and ease of life. As Paula once explained, “In the city we need to keep some pretence of current style because of our work. But we never feel as ease there. Here, we can let down our hair and be horribly middle class.” Michael cut in, “Time is measured in seasons here and moves slowly, in tune with nature. I feel relaxed, I can think about life. But you’re a writer, you know all about that.” I envied them, not because they had this getaway but because they had each other.
A few years ago I first met Michael at a party, one of those affairs where the hostess needed an extra man and I was pressed into service at the last minute. Dora was member of a class who collect literary agents, owners of art galleries, and so forth. A regular socialite with a dubious day job. She chaired or sat on various committees of good works and social agenda. So when the writer she invited had to cancel at the last minute, my name was suggested and I was immediately whisked into service to round out the usual cadre of artists, writers, and musicians. The average upper class individual, or at least those middle class individuals with newly acquired money, love to think that we are extremely interesting and profound. I’ve never met one of us who were. But it meant a good mean, good champagne, good wine, and if I was lucky, good single malt. After the usual grazing of the herd on canapes and champagne we were ushered into the dining room and took our assigned seats. I was sandwiched between a woman who was a member of the local school board and a man who was a legal counsel for a for one of Dora’s charities. Michael sat across from me, hemmed in by an outspoken woman performance artist on one side and a well known but, in my opinion, mediocre musician. I remember being asked to pontificate on a number of idiotic ideas and like a fool I addressed that idiocy as it should have been addressed. Needless to say I was not employed by the hostess in any capacity in the future. Several times I caught Michael looking very amused at my comments and once I detected that he actually had great difficulty suppressing laughter at one rejoinder I issued point blank at that local school board member. I think I called her lack of intelligence on issues of education a crime against humanity. The lawyer next to me had actually given a hearty chuckle.
After the ordeal of dinner was over I had been standing in the corner doing my best wall flower imitation when Michael walked up and said,”Follow me, old man, you look in need of a serious drink.” I’m not sure if my age was showing that night but I had at least ten years on him. He led me into what I concluded was the library, for it actually contained a few volumes artfully arranged on built in shelves. But I would lay odds no one ever opened them. It was apparent he knew his way around the very large house for he went to the right cabinet and pulled out two short glasses and a bottle of Glenlivet. “Ice or a splash of water?” was all he said. “Water, thanks.” was my reply. “Sit down, let’s have a decent conversation.” I was a little stunned by that remark. “What’s on your mind?” “You gave such a splendid performance back there at dinner, I’m sure Dora will hear of it.” “Ah, is that Ms Worthington’s name? You must be on intimate terms with her.” “Oh, by the way, my name is Michael Banks, pardon my manners. I know her husband, John. I’m in his law firm as a junior partner. By the way, I thought the lawyer joke rather funny.” “Thanks, er.. Michael, if I may call you by your first name.” “Oh please do, I don’t stand on ceremony. I’m only here as a favor to John.” “Mr Worthington?” We had another single malt and parted our ways for the evening. I skipped out knowing Ms Worthington would never call upon me again.
Michael called me the next Wednesday, would I care to have dinner with him on Friday at Le Bistro? My first instinct was to turn him down. I have little in common with lawyers and certainly junior partners with a national reputation are beyond my perceived worthiness. But I was curious as to why someone like him would wish me for a dinner companion. I had no money or social position, so the reason intrigued me, I accepted. “I’ll meet you in the bar. Just give them your name and a libation will be waiting for you.” Apparently he knew of my reduced circumstances. I had a small pension, so I turned to writing thinking I might actually earn a few dollars each month. The operative word is few, by the way. And he had the courtesy to suggest a good restaurant that was past it’s incrowd prime but still offered excellent meals at a decent price. I was at the restaurant at five past the hour for I did not want to appear too desperate not inconvenience him by being fashionably late. I shouldn’t have worried, he was fifteen minutes late and most apologetic for his tardiness. His mother had taught him good manners, that was a mark in his favor. The decor was understated in accord with the idea that the parton should be delighted with the food and not the embellishments of the room. I was half way through the standard serving of a very nice but not well know white burgundy, a village Meursault of good vintage. My enjoyment of the wine was evident when he came in. He asked me what I was drinking and I told him. “Ah yes, a very good wine, excellent value. It has nice legs, a hint of floral notes, a touch of citrus, and acid enough for the long haul. How did you come to chose that one?” Michael was a man who knew his wines well. So my credentials were offered by way of a few past wine experiences and we felt an immediate bond. We went in to dinner and got down to cases. I need not bore you with the menu and wine list, let’s just say it was a very good meal, the finest I have had in the last five years.
“You’ve guessed I have an ulterior motive in asking you to dinner.” “Well, yes, I am hardly in your social crowd and the thought did occur to me.” “Let me put you at ease. Dore is not the reason you are here although she is very put out by you. She was trying to convert that ignorant Ms Meacham to her cause. You’ve set Dora’s plans back by a month. But to continue, I became aware that you are the father of Ms Rebecca Lynn, are you not?” “Yes, but what does my daughter have to do with all this?” “Simple, your daughter is a member of a dance group run by Paula Johnson.” “Yes, go on, how does this affect me?” “Since I do not know either woemn and would like an introduction to Paula Johnson I thought perhaps you might arrange with your daughter to introduce me to Ms Johnson. I’m afraid that if I tried to do it myself I would be looked upon in a most unfavorable light.” “You mean something akin to a stage door johnny?” “Yes, yes, that’s what I thought. And while tonight’s dinner was an obvious bribe, please don’t get me wrong. I rather like you, you have that odd sense of humor. You have wit and intellect. I think you might like to see me in a more relaxed setting with a few of my more modest friends. We all aren’t society hounds.” “So why this woman and wouldn’t it be more direct to intrude upon her at some social bash or something?” “Paula is too busy for such trash as Dora and her friends. And Paula is a bit of a recluse, likes to guard her privacy, hates society parties. I mean, I’ve tried, but no gambit seems to get past her defenses. Look, this is not a case of unrequited love or anything like that.” “Well, I’ll broach the subject with my daughter. I can’t say how much influence Rebecca has since she is a substitute for the regular dance cast. But tell me, if you wouldn’t mind, just what attracts you to Paula? What do you see in that woman?” “I suppose I could say that I see the grace and style of the world at dance in her movements and that her smile was line the sun shining just for me. The fact is, I saw an interview of her last year and she touched my heart. There is something that rings true in her, reverberates in my soul, if you understand my meaning. I think, given a chance, we might find a way to make our burden’s less odious. But until I do meet her and have some time spent talking with her I doubt I shall ever know.” “Then I will enlist my daughter’s aid to get your foot in the door, so to speak. After that is shall be up to you to make your plea.” “Thanks so much, Bill. You don’t mind my calling you Bill, do you?” “Only my friends have that right, Mike, and I think you just may qualify on that point. I shall talk with my daughter and see what can be done.” Well, you should have seen the grin on Mike’s face. Like a little child with a lollipop in hand. He ordered some port and a plate of Stilton, walnuts, and gravenstein apple slices.
So the following week I talked with my daughter. We met at the theater during rehearsal. When a break came for the company we huddled in the front row seats and I outlined my dilemma. I had a friend, Michael, who would appreciate a private audience with Paula as I tried to so delicately put it. We did not notice Paula as she stood just behind us but out of our of direct sight. I heard Paula’s voice in that quiet assertive way ask me who did I think I was to come here to her theater and try to monopolize one of her girls? Rebecca turned around and said, “I’m sorry madame, this is my father and he had some important information for me.” “Oh! I though he was hear to play cupid. I have been listening. Am I to be the target of one of his arrows?” By now I was very red faced and was stammering what poor apology I could muster. “Oh, please don’t go on like that, Mr Lynn. Now tell me more about this secret admirer.” The stage manager called “Time, Places.” But Paula held up her hand while the company dithered a bit on the floor. I tried to be succinct in my message, it took about five minutes. “I can’t be sure but my opinion is that he is interested in you as an individual. Call it a simpatico attraction, if you will” “Interesting.” was all she said. “Stay here for a moment or two. Rebecca, time to join the rest.” Then she quickly glided over to a man standing by the person I thought was the stage manager. I saw him disappear for a few minutes and then return to the foot lights. He came down to the row where I was sitting and handed me an envelope. “Madame says to give you this.” Turning, he took two steps and leaped upon the stage. I had just spoken to one of the principle male leads. I looked into the envelope and saw a pair of tickets for Saturday’s premier and an invitation to the backstage reception after the performance.
I made a point of phoning Michael and telling him I had to see him at once. I wouldn’t say one way or another, but I told him that if necessary I would stop by his offices if he deemed me presentable. “Of course, old man, do come on by.” When I stepped out of the elevator there was a young man waiting for me. Since I did not look like the client type he came over immediately and said, “Mr Banks is waiting for you. I’ll show you in.” Mike rose from his chair when I came in, he was wearing that grin of anticipation as I approached his desk. Sit down Bill, please.” “Sit yourself down first, you might faint.” I handed the envelope to him as he sat back in his seat. He took the tickets out slowly and seemed quite amazed. “No one has been able to get tickets for me to this event, not fifth row center, no one!” Then he saw the cards for the reception. His shoulders collapsed and his head sloped forward in thought. A few seconds later he looked at me and said,”How on earth did you ever do it, Bill?” ” I think Paula wants to meet you.” was all I could say. I think you can guess the rest of the story. My daughter finally obtained her dream and became a regular member of the dance troupe. She will, of course, never be another Paula but I hear she has a junior law partner interested in her. I am still writing and trying to sell short stories to whoever will publish them. And I have a book started, one I think just might see the light of day. Dora has forgiven me, she wants me to use my supposed influence to get Paula into that society social circle of hers. But I demuir, claiming that I am just an acquaintance and have no powers of friendship. I also never review this secret hideaway to anyone. It’s more than a secret, its a good way of life. Life and love are too precious to waste on superficial people.
Dance with me. I want to be your partner, can’t you see. The music is just starting, night is calling, and I am falling. Orleans