Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

Sweet grapes in a bittersweet life

28th July 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Contributing Columnist

“The often hot and humid Texas weather lends itself to growing grapes.”

Given the oft blistering, triple-digit temperatures of North Central Texas, I was somewhat stunned to read that statement online. True, I had heard of Grapevine, Texas’ vineyards and fine winery, but I did not know that the town is named after the wild mustang grapes that grew on the Grape Vine Prairie and that Texas is the fifth-largest wine-producing state in the nation.

Also, I did not know that Grapevine is the headquarters of the Texas wine industry and that one can plan an entire getaway around Grapevine’s many winery tasting rooms. Along with wine trains or tours, the September Grapefest is the largest wine festival in the Southwest.

All this information was waiting for me when I was driven to go online by a backyard tour that featured a grapevine. That grapevine had been planted recently in Mansfield, Texas by Larry James Thomas. “Larry used to have a garden back here,” his wife Dodie told me, “but he was so frustrated by the Texas soil that he gave up on the garden. ‘This soil is just not rich like the soil back in Lafayette,’ he said. But he was determined to plant this grapevine.”

The grapevine was a beautiful dark green with luxuriant foliage and numerous clusters of green grapes. “I am sorry this vine is lying on the ground,” Dodie apologized. “Larry never got to put up a trellis for it.” Then, as I gently pushed aside some leaves and peered curiously at the loaded clusters, I spied a few grapes here and there that appeared to be ripe. Observing me reaching for the pale-red grapes, Dodie commented, “I have not tried to taste any yet.”

Somewhat tentatively, I tried a grape. It was simply delicious. When Dodie tried one, her face lit up with approval. “This, indeed, will be part of Larry’s legacy,” she must have thought. Yes, it was a sweet part of the legacy of a bittersweet life. Cut down prematurely at 55 by cardiac and other problems, Larry never saw his prize grapevine buckle under heavy, tantalizing grapes.

Both close friends of the Thomas family, associate Our Mother Of Mercy church member Madeline Morrison and member Evadell Ware had arranged for me to visit the Thomases with Evadell doing the chauffering. Puzzling over Larry’s life exit at 55, Dotie, her sister Kealar and her children struggled to put the pieces together and to make sense of a good man’s brief life.

Shawn, the sole son, and daughters Cortney Hobson and Diondra Thomas were visibly conflicted and confused at losing their father at such an early age. Because of health issues, issues, Larry had a medical retirement from United Parcel Service. He did professional gardening on the side. But no one was ready for his abrupt return to God without any warning.

Listening intently to Dodie and her family backtrack Larry’s last days and hours, I picked my way carefully through the conversation, searching for light humor where feasible among the serious talk and storytelling. Hearing that I am a vegan, Dodie’s mother, Hilda Rochon, sliced some of her homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers with lettuce for a fresh and tasty salad.

Before we realized it, three hours had come and gone. It was time for me to get back to the salt mines. However, somewhere during the visit the Thomases had adopted me into the family and asked me would I bless them by celebrating the homegoing Mass of their beloved Larry. How could I have possibly said no to such an earnest plea from such an afflicted family?

Lafayette, Louisiana lies just over six hours of legal-speed cruising from Fort Worth, or about 425 miles. This is enough mileage to transfer from the big and rugged culture of Texas to the Acad­ian/Creole culture of Southwest Louisiana. Larry’s mortal remains had been returned to his native Lafayette for the celebration of his homegoing at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.

At the worst of times of racial segregation in 1934, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church was built specifically for and given to Anthony Bourges, Maurice Rousseve, Vincent Smith and Francis Wade, the first four Black SVD priests, as their parish to shepherd the Black Catholics of Lafayette north of the railroad track dividing them from St. Paul Church, the other Black parish.

A nearly full house in the sparkling, recently-renovated church gave heartfelt support to the Thomas family through prayer, the Word and song. I wryly informed the folks that Dodie had told me that she did not like her name Theodora, derived from her father’s name, Theodore. But she smiled broadly when I noted that Theodore is a compound Greek word from Theòs, meaning God, and dôron, meaning gift. So Theodora means God’s gift, a truly wonderful name.

Larry hailed from a big family of four sisters and six brothers. With granddaughter Ryan Montoya in perpetual motion and sound, the environs abounded with nieces and nephews. One of the great things about a large family is the ample moral support they can afford one another.

Whether we have known each other for decades or just a few days, one of the greatest things we can do for one another is to hold hands and hug fondly in the faith that death is not a permanent separation but only a gateway to the eternal life our heavenly Father has promised us.

This article originally published in the July 28, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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