The Arbor

Local author Audrey Atkins on the pleasures of a life spent beneath the scuppernong vines

Excerpt from “They Call Me Orange Juice” | Illustration by Carl Calderone

I have an arbor. I flat love it. My husband hates it — the bugs, the squashed and sticky scuppernongs, the smell of fermentation and rot.

I have an arbor because Granny had an arbor. And I flat loved it.

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It was covered with muscadine vines growing down to the ground and high up into the trees. I would drag whatever lawn furniture and discarded household items I could scavenge or spirit away under the arbor’s dark cover to create a playhouse, my own secret refuge hidden from the outside world. It was always shady and cool. Quiet, except for the hum of the bees and the occasional bark of a far-off dog.

I would mark off rooms with rows of pine straw and arrange old pots, pans, and broken plates in the kitchen. A rusty, metal chase lounge from a long-forgotten patio set was my living room sofa. A bed of straw covered with an old horse blanket made a bed.

In my playhouse, I ate the muscadines growing at my fingertips and sand pears from a nearby tree, both sticky, sweet, late-summer treats. I watched birds nesting among the twisted branches. Sometimes I would get the ladder and climb on top, the old vines supporting my weight so I could lie down and watch the clouds blow overhead or feel the sun shining down on my face. I once entertained Mr. No-shoulders, a long, shiny, black snake, until he decided to carry on about his business.

That is why I have an arbor. I built it several years ago and planted three muscadine vines and three scuppernong vines. They have since grown to cover the wooden frame and drape down the sides like long curtains. The vines have even ventured over into the fig tree, and in the spring, delicate, green tendrils seem to be reaching to touch the sky. In the late summer, the vines become heavy and droopy with fruit.

Sometimes, when Brother comes to visit, we go to the arbor and visit while we pick the muscadines and scuppernongs. As we talk, sometimes I will sneak one of the fruits into my mouth and pop the skin with my teeth, releasing the sweet nectar, and then spit the mucous-like center at Brother when he least expects it. I especially like it when I hit him on the neck or upside the head. It is one of my greatest joys as a big sister.

Mostly though, I find myself out under my arbor all by myself, lost in the task of picking the seemingly endless supply of grapes — only the low ones for me though; the high ones are left for the birds. I wonder why I haven’t put a chair under my arbor where it is always shady and cool. I will next year, I always tell myself. I plot out rooms in my mind. I arrange imaginary furniture. I always keep an eye out just in case old Mr. No-shoulders decides to drop by.

Granted, I no longer have a need to play house. I can always go into my brick and mortar house where I have real rooms and air conditioning. But as the setting sun shines through the leaves, luminescent like stained glass windows, and I am serenaded by the buzzing of the bees and the occasional bark of a faraway dog, I am always loathe to leave my reverie.

I have an arbor. I flat love it

Born and raised in Citronelle, Audrey now lives with her husband in Birmingham where she is the Director of Community Engagement at WBHM Public Radio. A raconteur at heart, she shares her often funny and sometimes poignant stories about growing up and living in the South in her recent book, They Call Me Orange Juice, and at her blog audreyatkinswriter.comThe book is available at The Haunted Bookshop on Dauphin Street or through Amazon.

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