Storms Never Last
Copyright© 2010 by Jake Rivers
I am somewhat unusual in that not only am I a native Californian, but I was actually born in San Francisco. The name on the birth certificate is Terry Fisher, the same name as my dad and grandfather used. When I was twelve my dad told the Bank of California exactly where they could put their Senior VP position (hint; the sun don't shine there!), whereupon he purchased a couple hundred acres of Zinfandel grape vines in Dry Creek Valley, in Sonoma County. The owner was an old time Italian grower and after he died of something related to old age, his equally ancient widow was willing to deal fast and cheap. The vineyard was close below the dam under construction that would hold back the future Lake Sonoma, and was spread on both sides of Dry Creek. The valley was almost the exact size of Manhattan Island, but as bucolic as New York was citified.
Dad sold our quasi-mansion in Pacific Heights for enough moola to buy the vineyard. This was before property in Napa and Sonoma counties suitable for vineyards went through the roof. We moved, and found the vineyards and outbuildings were in great shape but the house was marginal. It was a rambling ranch house with rooms added over the years since the original three room house had been built around nineteen hundred. Dad did a lot of the work but farmed out the new electrical and plumbing systems, a new roof, and new kitchen cabinets and appliances. That still left a huge amount of work that we didn't finish until I was fifteen. Yeah, we. I helped, and learned a ton of skills that were to prove useful for the rest of my life.
Everyone kept telling him that he could make a lot more money if he started making his own wine, but he didn't want the hassle. His favorite time was winter when there wasn't much to do. I'd come home on the school bus from Healdsburg of an afternoon, and he would be sitting on the front porch fidgeting with one of his ever present briar pipes and gazing over the vineyards at peace with life and with himself. He neither needed nor wanted the added complexity (and inherent laws!) of owning a commercial winery.
Not that he couldn't, or wouldn't make wine. Tucked in a corner of the property, cut off by a small rise, were two acres of Zin vines planted somewhere around the early 1890s and just under an acre of Alicante Bouschet, much younger at forty years of age. In an ancient redwood vat in the barn he would make wine of various mixes of the two grapes depending on the relative productivity of the two fields, or our regular tasting of different blends ... which I participated in from the beginning. He and I would sit in the barn doing blind samplings of the various mixes. We would argue back and forth about the relative merits of each glass.
The wine was a bit different each year. The original settlers of Dry Creek Valley were mostly Italian immigrants ... with a healthy influx of French predating the Italians by a few years. In Italy at that time it was common that famers would all make their own wine. When they got to Sonoma County they did the same as in the old country: they would pick whatever grapes they and/or their neighbors had on hand. A typical wine of that early period might contain a mix such as some combination of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Alicante Bouschet and Carignane. The end product was hearty red wines that the farmers consumed themselves, gave to family, friends or neighbors, or bartered for other needed items—such as barrels.
The tasting of the aging wines was something formal: it might take us a couple of hours and the reloading of Dad's pipe several times before he—seriously considering my input—would decide. Some days we never reached a conclusion and had to try again the next day. I don't remember that we ever spit, but I clearly recall that I enjoyed the wine and became very close to my father. We would drink some of the bottled wine, give it to family or friends, or drive around to different wineries and trade for some of their wines. He particularly liked the wineries up in the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, where I picked up a lifetime love of late harvest dessert wines, especially Gewürztraminer and Riesling.
I got started on fishing—and the associated boating—through Annie, Annie Fielding. She was one grade behind me in school, and we caught the bus at the same stop. It was about four blocks for her and twice that for me. I had to go by her place before and after school and stopped by often on the way home to eat a slab of pie, help her with homework, or ride one of their horses with her. Neither of us had siblings, so we gravitated to being best friends. She was mature for her age, and I was just as immature for mine, so it worked out.
Her folks had about forty acres of orchard, mostly prunes and peaches, with enough apple trees to provide an inexhaustible supply of fruit for pies. I was amazed at the number of different ways Annie's mom could make apple pie. The plan when they bought the property was to work out a deal with a winery for them to plant and maintain vineyards, so all her dad would have to do is fish and collect an annual check depending on market price of grapes and the yield for that year. Debra, Annie's mom, had an annuity from her grandfather that didn't make them rich, but did allow them to live in the country, and keep him with a good fishing boat and trailer. It took a few years to make the vineyard thing happen, and for a local winery to rip out the orchard (except for the several apple trees in back of their house).
Annie loved to go with her dad, Allen, out on some lake—mostly Lake Sonoma (after it was completed) up behind Warm Springs Dam—and spend several hours dawdling more than anything. Truth be told, she was a better fisherman (fishergirl?) than her dad. He mostly liked to float around in the boat, smoking on some God-awful smelling cigar (that he wasn't allowed by the little woman to smoke anywhere near the house), and sip some of my dad's wine, or maybe polish off a couple of cans of beer. I was invited to fish with them about the fourth or fifth time I was at their house, the first time I'd been over for dinner.
When we first moved up there, Allen would mostly go to Lake Mendocino, sometimes Lake Pillsbury and rarely Lake Berryessa. Twice our combined families went all the way up to Lake Shasta, which was huge. We would rent a houseboat there, towing Allen's boat behind so we could go off and fish when the mood struck us. Warm Springs Dam was under construction when we moved from San Francisco in nineteen eighty. Five years later it was finished and started filling up with water. It took a while for Lake Sonoma to fill and the water to clear, but it became the place to go, and as it turned out, after that we almost never went anyplace else. The fishing turned out to be great; mostly trout, bass, catfish and sunfish. There were two main arms of the reservoir opening up behind the dam; one about four miles long and one about nine miles, so there was a lot of room to find a quiet spot.
Up to the time I was fifteen, the "best pals" relationship held solid. We were close friends based on proximity, common interests, and the relative isolation of our houses. Then, after school on an overcast day in December, everything changed forever between us. It had been raining intermittently all day and, just as the bus pulled away after letting us off, it started pouring. I grabbed Annie's hand as we dashed for a large oak tree about fifty yards away. By the time we got there, we were both soaked. Annie was wearing an open sweater with a skirt and a white blouse. Her blouse was transparent from the soaking we got, and her bra was some thin lacy material that certainly wasn't opaque.
When we got under the tree, we turned to each other, laughing as we were wont to do all the time. I stared at her chest and felt almost dizzy with shock. I'm sure I realized at some level that Annie had breasts, but I had never really thought about it. I mean, she was Annie, that's all. She was my fishing buddy, my playmate, and my study partner ... all of those. But the thing was, she never had tits! Well, she did of course, but now, for the first time, I could actually see them. They were about the size of a small tangerine (and sometime later I found out they were just as sweet), and they seemed, to my not exactly discerning eye, to be mostly nipples. I swear I was having hot flashes.
She saw me staring and looked down to see what was absorbing all my attention. She looked up with a confused look on her face. She started, "Terry, what..." and I panicked. I threw my arms around her, pulling her close. I pressed my mouth on hers with it open as I'd heard guys at school talking about. I hadn't been paying that much attention at the time, but they called it French kissing and it was supposed to make the girls hot. At the time I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded good. She stood there for a minute while I slobbered all over her face. I was big on enthusiasm and lousy on skill.