Day 4: Geraldine’s

Levi Dalton is head sommelier at Alto in New York.

For some time that shed had been locked up and unused and to tell you truth, I don’t even remember how we got in. Probably Tully had a key. His aunt and uncle owned the place – the shed was just a part of what they had purchased from the old owner some time back – so I guess it was ok that we were in there, but maybe not. Hard to say.

But probably Tully had a key. ‘Cause we did get inside, and this is the honest truth, there was a ship in there. A big one. Not the whole thing, mind you – although it was still gosh darn big – but just the front half. I’ve never been a sailor for anything, but I think they call that the bow. We didn’t live near the water, and who knows what happened to the rest of that metal piece, but there was that bow in that old, dark shed. The front half of what I guess was an old tanker that had been cut off and put there and that we used to get up on and play captain and crew. When I think on that I see myself brandishing a sword towards the wind up on that bow, but of course I didn’t have a sword, even though I really wanted one, so it was probably just my blonde Louisville Slugger with the extra long handle and the knicks from knocking all those rocks. But maybe it was something else. It could have been anything, I guess. I also remember myself wearing a big Napoleon hat, but I didn’t have one of those either, so who knows.

I don’t recall if it was me or Tully that found that ballot box in the shed. I do remember that it was locked. Maybe Tully said we shouldn’t open it, but I know we did. Because I was thinking how weird it was that here was this ballot box with all of these ballots still in it, and no one had opened it up till now, years later. Who knows, maybe old Briv Cunningham would have won that upland County Commissioner seat if someone hadn’t made off with all those many ballots in that locked up box…

We used to hang out in the shed during the summers when it rained. In Oregon that’s a lot. Mostly if I went to Tully’s house, his old man would tell us to go outside and find something to play. Mr. Tulligan liked to be alone with his smoking pipe and his brown Irish twist. Derwith’s mom never wanted us hangin’ about the house mussying up her carpet, and was likely to say a bit of something about it if we tried. My dad’s place was too small to stay in all cooped up together. So we would go to the shed when it was pouring and wait out a storm until the wind kicked up and took the rain drops on down towards Gresham.

But as I was going to say before all that whimsy with the Napoleon hat, mostly I remember the letters, and how I liked to read them out loud. ‘Cause we found suitcases full of them in that old shed, suitcases completely filled up with envelopes addressed in hand and the single spaced letters inside. The writing ink was mostly brown around the time we came on the scene. Probably it had been black before, and changed, as things do. I think we did find one or two letters with black ink, down at the bottom of a suitcase or something, but mostly the writing was brown, and sometimes yellow. So you had to struggle to make the words out in the light, but we liked reading ‘em through anyway.

Mostly, I read. Derwith wasn’t much of a reader, and Tully always went on too fast, he never stopped for a period or nothin’. That’s just the way he was, always going on. We’d sit on those old boxes and I’d roll over the syllables all nice like, just like I was on the radio. Back then I wanted to be one of the guys who read The Lone Ranger books on cassette tapes. We used to listen to those, too. That was a long time ago. Maybe guys don’t get paid to read The Lone Ranger anymore.

These letters weren’t love letters, I ain’t the type to go sneakin on people that way. They were the passing the time kind of letters. This was my day and what happened letters. This here is what we’ve been doing sort of letters. Mostly, I think it was family writing family. Folks who were away from people they knew, and writing their happenings and their thinking and putting a postage stamp on those and sending ‘em back home.

I remember Geraldine. Geraldine’s cursive leaned to the right pretty heavy, and her l’s had those tight loops and didn’t go up so far, so if you weren’t paying attention too close you might read out ioiiipop for lollipop and wonder what the darn was an ioiiipop and why you had never seen one or heard of those before. Geraldine never missed a beat, though. Every day she was probably writing. When you think about it, not so many people are writing every day. Long form, thinking out an afternoon between the margins kind of writing, Geraldine did that on the regular, or must have. There were a lot of her letters in those beat up suitcases. A lot a lot.

Geraldine took a day through the hours, she liked to notice things. Maybe that’s the part about her words I liked most. Your thoughts would roll over them, and find an open world there. Geraldine would tell you about feeding the horses, that both of the horses were guy horses, that one was brown with white around the hooves, and that the other was grey with all dark spots everywhere. That there was one horse named Arnold. I remember that because I read out “Arnoid” the first time and Tully kept buggin me for days about what an “Arnoid” was. That’s okay because that sure wasn’t the dumbest thing anybody ever said. Derwith, he wanted to know if one of the horses had a star on its forehead. A white star. “I don’t know Der,” I said, “she don’t say nothing about a star. If there was one there, she would probably say there was one there.” Derwith was sure the brown horse had a star on its head. Not sure how somebody gets to that kind of decision makin’.

But see, the thing about feeding horses, and I learned this from Geraldine, is that you have to keep your hand flat. You have to stretch out your fingers as far as they will go, all hard like, no curling. ‘Cause otherwise you risk that horse going from carrot stick to celery stalk to finger number 1. Got to keep your hand out like a board, real steady, with no quick movin’. Then the horse settles down, and knows what is going on. You don’t want to scare ‘em. You want to stand there very still like, and you can’t get scared when you feel the hot breathe of their nostrils on your palm, when they’re close enough that you can hear the clomping of those big teeth. Clomp, clomp, clomp, till there’s no more carrot there. Then you give Arnold a nice pat on the side of the head and you both go on about your business. I can’t remember the other horse’s name, so I’ll figure that it was Arnold that was getting the feeding. Anyway, I think that is what Geraldine said.

I guess she knew what she was talking about, because I think she spent a lot of her days around animals. I remember she said that when sheep are born, they come out in a sack. A black sack. She said that she had seen it. This gangly black sack falls to the ground, and then the mom licks the sack off herself. And there is a baby sheep in there. I don’t know much about this myself, I’ve never seen anything like that, so I guess I have to take Geraldine’s word. Same thing with cleaning out fish with your thumb. She knew how to do that, too. Just how to put her thumb in there and bring out the insides so you could eat that fish for dinner. Most folks don’t know how to go about doing that.

There was the time about making the damn out of logs. I’ve never made a damn. But Geraldine and some of her buddies had damned up a stream real nice and made themselves a swimming hole. It was all just mud on the sides, nothin’ fancy, and I guess some roots even stuck out into the water in places. But Geraldine and her friends swam around there and splashed at each other, and had big belly laughs up at the sky, and it all sounded like just too much fun.

There were plenty of folks’ letters in that shed. Matt Tim’s were around too. But his weren’t my favorite, even though he had two first names. Matt Tim was always switching up his style. Sometimes it was cursive, sometimes it was block print, even in the same word. Geraldine was tops, she knew all kinds of stuff, and she would write it all down. She was like a mapmaker, tellin’ you about that place she was, telling you where the swimming hole was made, where the big forest with all the Christmas tree pines was at, where the clover patch could be found, how the tree house wasn’t really a tree house, more like just a platform, and how to get up there. Geraldine knew an old-time logger, Jimmie Tye, who lived with his two boys in a yellow school bus out in the woods somewhere. That was their house, a school bus. Jimmie was a big classical music fan. Sometimes Geraldine would visit in the evening and the Moonlight Sonata would be lilting out of the half down emergency windows. There was the time Geraldine and the Tye family all went out for a clam bake by the river and found gun shells. Spent bullet casings, left behind by hunters. “When I put these shells to my ear I hear pain,” she had wrote. Geraldine showed you a world, and she parsed it out for you in syllables. People’s experience ain’t nothin’ if it ain’t explained.

Anyway, that’s what I remember.

I am a sommelier now, and it doesn’t rain much during a summer in New York. You talk about The Lone Ranger here and folks think you are talking about a hockey player. These days, people fight a lot about what Natural wine is or what it is supposed to be. For me it is like the handwriting of an old letter, maybe one that hasn’t been addressed to you. People think it is cute to argue against Natural wine like there is still some kind of battle raging, like the mass pixel, high density, all-alike world hadn’t already relegated Natural to an oddity, a holdover, a letter forgotten about in an old beat up suitcase. Hell, even this story is a computer document. What is natural? It is the loop of a cursive l. It is the hot breathe of a horse on your hand. It is words rolling out in the half dark. Maybe it is a map that doesn’t need much translation. A directness. A witnessing of experience and a lessening of the distance from which we are separated from each other and the surroundings we find ourselves in. The rolling up of a place into a bottle with a cork in it.

Perhaps the space that is created by forgetting is natural, and the humble quality of uncertainty is natural. When someone makes a boring wine, a bland wine, a commercial wine, I don’t think they have forgotten anything. I think they were never there listening. There is a lot that happens in the world. It’s a continuous, simultaneous going on. Why try to close that out of the liquid? Cacophony seems to be the objection to the wines of Cornelissen, for instance. Too much is going on for the reader to pick out the dominant cords. So what should we leave out of the story, the boys who live in a school bus, or the ship that was inside an old shed, miles from any shore? Because all of that happened, that is all a part of the Real, a part of our history, and an outcome of what is natural.

Sometimes people ask me for a definition of Natural. I tell them, look, I want you to take that question you just asked me, and write it down. Write it down in your own handwriting, with your own pen and paper, and with the words you want to use. Then look at it. Take a look at what you just did. That’s your answer.

Geraldine, I miss you,

Levi Dalton

Follow day by day here:

Up next: A mystery post, or; Seriously it’s a mystery to me.

~ by Cory Cartwright on June 21, 2010.

12 Responses to “Day 4: Geraldine’s”

  1. Levi, this is a truly remarkable piece of writing. You’ve taken wine blogging to an entirely new dimension here… I just can’t tell you how floored I am by this. Chapeau bas…

  2. […] was left entirely FLOORED by Levi Dalton’s piece over at the 32 Days of Natural […]

  3. “The rolling up of a place into a bottle with a cork in it.”

    That’ll do nicely.

  4. great piece.

  5. Agreed all ’round. The same line that Dave E. quoted stuck in my mind, too. Great work, Levi.

  6. Thanks to everyone who said a nice word, it is deeply appreciated. At first, I was reluctant to even submit this reminiscence.

  7. Beautiful writing, Levi. Thank you!

  8. You rock! Great contribution!

  9. Found this through a dobianchi reference. Gripping.

  10. Satisfying and haunting

  11. one of my favorites in this series, bravo!

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