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       GRAPEVINES AND STEALING
 
       A few years ago, when my parents built an addition onto our modest farmhouse and moved here from the Middle West, our side of the house gained a covered porch.  I planted a Kousa dogwood in front of it, right in front of where the western sun buns into tired eyes, and furnished it with a swing for two and a grapevine.
       When we first lived here thirty years ago I discovered an ancient vine all but strangled by forsythia gone mad, and rescued it.  That vine fell to the addition, though a cutting from it grows on the other side of the house and will set grapes this year for the first time, but the farmer brought me a young vine fourteen years ago, when the addition was completed and the porch was built, and it has flourished.
       In spring summer and fall I rock in the swing, read, drink gin and tonic in the evening and orange juice and coffee in the morning.  I look at the grape vine, the Kousa which just now is covered with blossom, and the old silver maple at the edge of the street, full of holes which house squirrels and starlings, and often in the fall crows sitting on its gaunt branches jeering at everyone.
       It makes me happy.  The swing is built for two but usually there is just me and some friendly ghosts, most notably that of my mother who died seven years ago on Saturday and is still deeply mourned, as they said in Victorian times.   
       I love the vine.  It’s the friendly Concord grape, one of the few things that remain truly seasonal and thus tastes of late summer always.  The vine itself, which is as thick as my arm and has flattened itself through the floor of the porch scrawls a haggard pattern on the railing all winter and right through early spring and then suddenly throws out long green branches with curling tendrils at the ends and along the sides and the skeletal little grapelets jut out from the sides like line drawings.  If I am not careful they’ll ramp over the whole porch and the swing and hide the silver maple, but this year I am careful and tie back and prune and keep my unimpeded view.
       When I am sitting in the swing, the grapes and the vines and the silver maple and the dogwood seem so beautiful, so important.
 
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       Why do people think it’s alright to steal from farmers?  I have been thinking about this question for many months.   Last summer I wanted to write about it, but I couldn’t figure out how to write about it objectively.  I wanted to understand how it is that someone can take a walk through a field and pick lettuce and tomatoes and onions and take them home without paying and yet that same person would not dream of taking money out of the farmer’s pocket. 
       Now I think I know.  Maybe I’m wrong, and some other farmer’s wife will correct me, or even one of the thieves will write to me and say no, that’s not why I do it, THIS is why...
       Here is what I think:  I think that people think it’s alright to steal from farmers because of the dirt.  Farmers are always dirty.  They come home from work covered with mud in the winter and dust in the summer.  Their jeans wear out in two weeks, their sneakers are a wreck in a month.  They work in the dirt, and what they make comes from the dirt.  They put a little seed, or a tiny plant, into the dirt, and it grows into a flower, a cabbage, a lettuce, an onion.  You would think that people would see this as a miracle and farmers as angels, but they do not, except in articles between the covers of romantic magazines.  Common as dirt, my mother used to say, and though the expression has gone out of usage the sentiment has not. 
              Something else:  in Illinois where I grew up the noun “farmer” was usually accompanied by the adjective “dumb”.  And people are always surprised to discover that the farmer went to university and did not major in agriculture. 
       Some stealing stories, all of them true:
       The old guy who put a six-pack of eggplant on the floor of his car and walked into the stand to pay for one six-pack of tomatoes. 
       The “old friend” who came early in the morning to “help out” amd was discovered to have a trunkful of hangers and vegetable plants hidden in his car after he asked the farmer for a discount on a flat of tomatoes.  And argued about the price.  And came back even after he had been caught and told to get out. 
       The people who ask after his mother (dead for ten years) and tell him what good friends they were and try to get discounts on a six-pack of tomatoes and a parsley plant.  And argue about the price.
       The old lady who stole walnuts and drove away in  a Mercedes.
       The sister of a former employee who loudly demanded a discount.  And:  “You’re not going to charge for that cucumber plant , are you?  It’s the last one.”
       The people who take one plant out of a six-pack and stow it in a pocket or purse.
       Every day the farmer has a new story.  The wealthy landscaper who has a fleet of trucks and a house at the shore and a house in Italy and tried to drive away with a crate of figs.  In his Cadillac. 
       Why do people think it’s all right to steal from farmers?  Because they work in the dirt and their produce is dirty, and dirt is cheap, therefore it ought to be free. 
 
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       It’s summer and the grapevine is unwinding itself all over the railings, peonies are in bloom, roses about to burst, the leaves on the trees are new and young, the Kousa is full of blossom, I sit on the swing and gaze at the new moon, there are blessedly no mosquitoes yet.  These seem like the most important things in the world.  I don’t have to steal them.