The Way It Was – The grape arbor


Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.

I never knew my grandfather Tracy. He passed away before I was born, but I saw traces of him wherever I looked around our house on West Fifth Street. He was a concrete contractor, and his work could be seen all around the property: the concrete walks and steps, circular driveway and watering trough in the barn, to mention just a few.

Then there was the concrete front porch that stretched the full width of the house. That was one of my favorites, because no matter how hard it was raining, I could roller skate on that concrete floor. It was like having my own roller skating rink. I loved it.
But one of my favorite things that he built wasn’t made of concrete. It was the wooden grape arbor at the steps of the back porch. He planted two grapevines, one on each side of the arbor. Over time, as the vines matured, they provided a wonderful touch of shade on the steps and the short walkway.
The best thing about the arbor, however, was the grapes themselves. They were Concord grapes, and they were so sweet you wouldn’t believe it. Some years, they ripened in late summer; other years it might be in fall.
Some of my fondest memories are of sitting on the steps, in the shade of the arbor, eating those grapes. It was there, for example, that Richard Liggett and I made plans for the golf course we built on several lawns in our neighborhood.
I also ate a lot of the grapes while I was walking to school. I would go out the back door and pick a bunch of grapes on my way out. I cut across the Robb sisters’ backyard, in back of Richard Liggett’s house, and I was off to school. I might run into one of my classmates on the way, maybe Dee Weil. Then we shared that bunch of grapes, as we walked.
There are also a few poignant memories of that grape arbor, for during the 1930s, men often stopped by around lunchtime to ask for food. My grandmother would fix them something to eat, and they sat on our back porch as they ate it. I sometimes sat on our porch steps in the shade of the arbor, and talked with them. And occasionally they picked a bunch of those wonderfully sweet grapes for dessert.

They came from all over the country. Some were headed south. Others were traveling east or west. And they all were looking for work. I was too young to understand the hardships they were facing, but as I look back today, I am amazed by their positive attitude. They didn’t dwell on their troubles. They talked mostly about the jobs they were going to find, maybe in a factory, or as a field worker.
Last summer, a neighbor who lives directly behind us put up a grape arbor. It’s much bigger, and much fancier, than the one we had on West Fifth Street. They put some beautiful outdoor furniture under the arbor, and a flat screen TV on the side of the garage. It’s a beautiful arbor, but I think they made one big mistake.
They didn’t plant those wonderfully sweet Concord grapes. Instead, they planted some variety with a fancy French name. It’s one of those grapes they use to make wine. Heck, you can buy that kind of grape at most any supermarket, but it isn’t always easy to find bunches of really sweet Concord grapes like the ones my grandfather Tracy planted on West Fifth Street years ago.
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