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The Peach & Night Crawler - Memories of My Grandfather, Anthony R. Vignato (1915 - 2008)
By Dennis E. Darcy, Jr.

The Peach

Purple. Pulpy. It seemed big as a softball. I was holding a peach, an Indian peach my grandpa called it, and it was dripping down my wrist from the bite in its fuzzy flesh. It was a hybrid peach I would later find out, a combination of some Northeast type and some other exotic one that I never knew the name of. It really was purple, dark and deep inside like the cloak of some vampire, like a Port wine. I had pulled it from the tree that marked the further corner of my grandparents yard, near the forcythia bushes that grew along the fence border and collected in the corner of the yard in a way that created a cave, a small fortress for a seven year old. There were apple trees, giants that dropped their wormy fruit so the yellow jackets could bore their way through them, a smaller grove of pear that never seemed to ripen and plum trees that sprouted like blue teardrops with an amber, sour, middle. The raspberry bushes were the highlight. To pick them before the birds and bees got to them first. To eat them on the spot one by one, with two hands, until with stained fingers we clutched our bellies from the joy and fullness of it all. But there was only one peach tree. It was not so big, even by a child’s standards. We would not climb it. It was fragile. It was growing together, grafted, surgically masterminded to produce this special, succulent thing, this Indian peach. It probably bore no more than three or four fruit it seemed to me then, and I was eating one now. It was a delight I will not forget. My grandpa did this, grew this, nurtured this. It seemed he could do these things. He could spit out watermelon seeds onto his paper plate and walk to the compost pile next to the shed and there would be beachball size watermelons there at summers end. I kid you not. He had that true gift. A green thumb, if you will, and he seemed never to be trying too hard at it either. My dad would come home with paper bags, the big ones, full to overflowing with tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, green beans, it seemed too much for our small family. It would not cross grandpa’s mind that the three of us would never be able to eat that much before they spoiled. But I don’t recall any of it going bad. I remember my grandfather like this.

Night Crawler

The wells were full. So were the buckets. So we just threw them in the boat. It was a slaughter. Eighty, a hundred fish that day, a boon. Once in a lifetime for a novice fisherman, incredible and surreal for a 10 year old. The fish scales would never be washed away, try as we might, they congealed and baked in the sun and stayed with the life of that boat and us. There was a certain smell that my grandpa’s boat had, a mixture of burping gas fumes, salty bait, and those fish scales. It all came back in an ignition of memory as I jogged the West Side of Manhattan and found myself breathing in that earthy, oily, somehow musky and manly aroma of low tide and bay mud. I began thinking of those early morning fishing trips. The boat, as I remember it, was a filth pit of dried guts, buckets and bait. You could not stay clean. Or dry. The cracked plastic upholstery would seep moisture, the anchor line would breed seaweed and the anchor, mud. The narrow glass windshield was opaque with a crust of salt that would recoat every trip into the bouncy bay. It was boys heaven. And we killed fish like pros. I learned to bait my hook from this man, he had knarled and leather hands, even then, and he didn’t speak much and I guess I didn’t either. So most of the day we just fished, ate soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fished some more. By far the most unromantic and gruesome job was baiting the hook. With night crawlers being the worst. In my mind I would imagine my grandpa outside the night before skulking in the yard, flashlight in one hand, coffee can in the other, plucking these hideous creatures from some unsanitary and dangerous place. If you have never seen a night crawler let me enlighten you. Imagine the body of an earthworm, a big, meaty one, with legs like a centipede and a head that conceals prehistoric pincers that could pierce a catchers mitt. Now picture digging into the writhing shadows of a coffee can full of soil to find your bait. It is the stuff of nightmares. I would often feign some ineptness that might catch my grandpa’s attention so he’d swipe at my pole, shovel into the can and stick, barbarically and with no conscience, the hairiest of the beasts on my hook. The deck would be thick and sticky with worm blood. No kidding. And I just knew that if it were off that hook it would know my fear and possibly bore its way into my brain and come out my eye. Ah, good times. It makes a boy a man somehow. “I got one!” I’d cry. “Well, reel him in.”, he’d say dryly. And so I would. I remember my grandfather like this.

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