by Alice Woodrome
The grape lady was what we called Sadie Mullins before we knew her name. She was old - real old. Her hair was snow white and pulled back in a bun. I never seen her without an apron tied around her bony middle. But I didn't see her very often; Sadie kept to herself.
My sister Susie and me walked past her house every school day on the way to the main road to catch the bus to Dewey Elementary School in town. The old woman's stone house needed fixin, but it fit her. Sometimes we'd see Sadie outside watering some plant by her front door. A time or two she was tending the grape vines that grew on an arbor and shaded the front of the old house. She walked bent over, leaning on a walking stick carved from a hickory branch. Everything Sadie did was in slow motion. They say she had lived in that little house on Buckeye Road her whole life - born there, even. I heard one kid say she made wine with her grapes, but I don't know if it was true. We never thought much about what she did; she was just a cranky old lady that stood between us and the sweetest grapes we ever tasted.
The grapes she grew on her arbor were fat and so dark they were almost black. We knew they was sweet because sometimes Susie and me, we'd eat a few when they got ripe. We'd eat as many as we could right there off the vine and when we heard the door open, we'd run off with a handful. Not that we was scared of the grape lady or nothing; she never could've caught us. But we heard her hollering at us to stop a few times as we ran away. I felt bad sometimes for eating her grapes, but they was just so sweet, I couldn't resist.
Susie said we was saving them from becoming wine and so we was really helping the grape lady, 'cause everybody knows drinking wine is a sin. Susie had a way of explaining things to make them okay.
One summer day it all changed 'tween us and the grape lady. Susie and me was doing like we always done when the grapes was ready to eat. I had just put a big grape in my mouth and started to chew, it's juice bursting so sweet it almost hurt. Suddenly the grape lady appeared behind us. She'd been round the corner of the old house and not inside this time, so we didn't see her sneakin up. She was standing twix us and the road with that walking stick pointing straight at my nose. Still we could have got away quick as a bunny, but she stopped us by asking, "Shall I tell your mama you been stealing from me?"
I swallowed the grape even though it wasn't hardly chewed. "Oh, no, please ma'am, we're awful sorry," I said. "We didn't think you'd mind us tasting your grapes." I knowed I didn't fool her even before she said so, but being caught red-handed like that sort of threw me off.
"Do you think lying makes a thief more appealing?"
We just hung our heads in shame, and said, "No, ma'am."
"I might consider not telling your mother on one condition," the grape lady told us. "You can work to pay for the fruit you stole and we'd be even. I have a garden patch outback that needs a weedin. I think that might just make us square."
We worked real hard, Susie and me, so the grape lady wouldn't tell Mama what we done. She brought us out iced tea and sat in a lawn chair to watch us, telling us all about when she was little like us. She told Susie and me that if'n we had asked, she would have let us eat them grapes anytime we was wanting to and we wouldn't have had to pull no weeds to pay for'em. By the time we was through with our work, we didn't think of her as a cranky old lady no more. She even sent a pint of grape jelly home with us to give to Mama.
That was the day we learned Sadie Mullin's name, and learned too, that it is better to ask first when you're dying for the taste of a sweet fat grape on a summer afternoon.