“Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”Charles Dickens Why am I here?
I hear this question frequently and the question usually pertains to how I came to find myself working in a winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York. I have been at this business, this wine story for awhile and answer the question almost on a daily basis.
My parents, James and Elizabeth bought the property in 1979 and opened the winery in 1986. I was here on and off from 1979 to 1989, returning full time in 1989 after my father died. This somewhat boilerplate version masks my disbelief that as of January 19th, 2014, twenty five years have passed and here I am, at this time, at this place, in this life.
And still I wonder, why am I here?
My father, pictured above, was a corporate man and a mid-twentieth century one at that. ‘What was good for the company was good for him’ was a credo that he lived by and came to regret. He went where he was told and we as family followed. I lived in nine different neighborhoods in five different states before I got to high school. It was the last move to Connecticut, when business brought my father to the Finger Lakes.
The portrait of my father was painted after he left the hospital during World War II. He was in the Battle of Guadalcanal and his ship, a destroyer named the Cushing was sunk during the November night battle. Terrifying and horrific probably inadequately describe that battle and unlike 72 others, my father survived. He was lucky and he had a savior. My father was badly wounded and temporarily paralyzed. A Bosun’s mate was in much the same condition but he managed to direct another sailor, panic stricken but unhurt, to fetch two powder barrels and tie both he and my father to them and heave each of them over the side, all while Japanese artillery was exploding around them. The ship eventually sank and my father after 36 hours bobbing in the water, tied to a powder barrel, was rescued.
So here I am but still this question dogs me.
I met my wife at a farmer’s market. I was selling wine and she was working at her mother’s bakery selling cookies, cakes and most fortuitously, key lime tarts. I always wanted to try key lime tart and 23 years later, I can stand in my kitchen and watch my daughter dance between the chairs and see my wife’s face and be just as enchanted as I was on that summer’s day when I first saw her smile.
But what If…
My father went into the hospital on Friday the 13th, January 1989 and he never made it out alive. I never have been superstitious about the date but I think it interesting that he survived the night battle of Guadalcanal which began at 01:48 hours on Friday the 13th. If events and circumstances had been different on either of those two days, I might not be here in this place, with this life.
When I walk out into a vineyard and I see the first buds of spring I am enthralled again and I know how lucky I am. I think of a bleeding, wounded young man struggling to survive in the warm waters of the Pacific. I see my wife and daughter, and I think, what if that grapefruit sized piece of shrapnel, that gouged out and scarred my father’s back so, had been lower or higher or if he had been two steps here or two steps there. And I think about that Bosun’s mate, always I think about that Bosun’s mate and I think, what if….
I can stand under a vast October sky, in a vineyard overlooking an enormous, magnificent lake among ripening grapes, grapes which tell a story about this time at this place, and I ask the question again. But the universe does not answer and it does not have to. Because I know how fortunate I am, to be walking through swirling vines with bluebirds and gold finches fluttering about, under an endless sky, so very fortunate to even be able to ask this question at all, ‘ Why am I here?’.
Thomas Prejean 1/23/14