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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

History of my world, part wine

At the ripe old age of nine, Siciliano's perennial employee Sarah "The Cheetah" Derylo had her first-ever encounter with the art of winemaking. Here, in her first-ever blog post, she recounts the details of that fateful meeting. 

By Sarah Derylo

It’s hard to forget the first time I crept down the stairs of my great grandmother’s house and saw those musty old wine barrels. I had faked sick from school that day. Sacred Heart’s history lessons, although fascinating, could not fulfill my need for the personal timeline I was longing to discover. I knew my Grandma Boom-Boom could. Her stories and recounted memories allowed me to hear the “history” of me. Who I was, where and who I came from, why I was here. Every stomach ache was the promise of a new lesson in the subject of the past I didn't know.

I looked forward to the time I spent at the house on Butterworth Street where my great grandmother raised four children, more grandchildren and even more great-grandchildren. Later in life she proved to be a master gardener, chef, philosopher, soap-opera watcher, and most importantly to me, an expert storyteller. Little did I know that when my ma unloaded me that day onto the worn-out steps of her front porch I was going to receive an education in something I would carry with me into my adult life, something that would eventually become a passion of my own.

The morning was typical. I asked Grandma Boom-Boom to tell me the story of how she came to America, the boat she was on, her first sight of the Statue of Liberty, and if she was scared coming all the way from Italy as a little girl with no one but her younger brother. She patiently retold the stories as if it wasn't the hundredth time I had asked to hear them. I listened to her mini-dramas until lunch time, when we went to the kitchen to prep for my favorite dish: spaghetti. Most Italian Americans will tell you their grandparents made the best sauce on the planet and I am no exception. I began lining the uncooked pasta neatly on the table. Grandma Boom-Boom gathered her ingredients--garlic, onions, basil and so on--and then she asked me, "Sarah Beth, can you go in the basement and bring me up some tomatoes?"

I had never been in the basement but she assured me she would wait right at the top of the stairs. She opened the door and instructed me to the back wall where the jars of the previous summer's harvest were stored. I crept down the creaky steps just knowing that at any moment a monster would reach out and grab my ankle. Any seven- or eight-year-old that has been in a Michigan basement will tell you that some monsters are real and can absolutely smell the fear of a child. I looked back at Grandma Boom-Boom as if for the last time. She assured me she would not let anything come to get me. "I will go boom boom on that monster's head!" This was a promise given previously to my older brother through broken English, thus coining the name "Grandma Boom-Boom", and comforting me even now as I stood in the darkness of her basement. I continued on.

Soon enough, under the watchful eye of a single lightbulb, I saw the barrels. I stood for a moment mesmerized, overwhelmed by curiosity at what seemed like something from the middle ages. The wooden vats seemed giant to a nine-year-old; they towered over me, each with its own face lined with history and a different kind of wisdom. I ran to grab the jar of tomatoes and raced back up the steps.

“What were those?”

"Oh. Those are your great grandpa’s wine barrels”

“Grandpa made wine?”

“Oh yes, everyone did back then. How else could you get it?”

The lesson ensued. My great grandfather Enrico Fulvi became a winemaker during prohibition. In many cultures wine is an essential part of the meal and to Italians in particular it is an essential part of life. The law that took effect in 1919 almost seemed cruel to a population of immigrants who worked hard to better the lives of their families. In the final years of prohibition, Enrico's daughter Anita and her sisters as small children would peek out the front windows and watch for the cops during "production". They didn't view it as breaking the law, not exactly. It was a cultural right and simply a part of life. And since wild grapes were so abundant in Grand Rapids, Enrico perfected his craft and continued thousands of years of artistry. I realize now the wonderful responsibility I have, to pass down not only the stories of that time but also the craft and art of winemaking, borne of necessity, linking my generation to the countless generations that came before.

My Grandma Anita grew up and married another winemaker, Sam. Pressing grapes and sharing wine with him are some of my most precious memories. Our family doesn't have your typical family tree. Proudly, ours is a grapevine.

Bottling day with Grandpa Sam

1 comment:

  1. Love the post! I miss Grandma. I can still remember the fabulous smells of her house when food was going. I cannot believe it's been 24 years since she's passed on. I'm not the winemaker, but I can make a few mean Italian dishes. I swear cooking skills are genetic!