Wednesday, September 26, 2007


My wife and I don't grow anything to eat.

There's be no point to it, anyway, as a deer is like a bunny rabbit around here. They eat at the prickly barberry bushes and nibble the spiny leaves off the hollies now. It would be a 24 hour counterassault to try to safeguard actual food from them. Neither one of us comes by it naturally anyway.

My beloved Uncle Raphael grows things to eat. He has a soft spot for enormous gaudy flowers, too. In the early summer he'll attend any fete with a huge bucket of blooms for the hosts. But this time of year, it's all food he brings.

I can't remember the latin term, exactly. Glebae ascriptii, I think. Google is no help. It might be forty years since I read the term, but it stuck. It meant tied to the land, I believe. It referred to people who were serfs, who literally came with the property.

I can't imagine our ancestors were very wealthy before they crossed the ocean in big rusting freighters to scratch out a life here in America. When I think of paisan, I think of peasant. That is its literal derivation, though that is obscure now. You are my friend, my countryman, my compatriot, because like me, you scratch your living out of the same earth.

I wonder if we were glebae ascriptii. I'm sure we were paisans. I wonder if it is in our bones, somewhere, the wonderful magic of bringing forth life from the land. If it's in my bones, it is hiding well. Maybe Uncle Ray got mine. He certainly got more than his share. I can't think of another man that has conjured more things out of this earth and sea than he. It has to be enough, perhaps that he is my zio Raphael, and thinks to give the fruits of his labor to his nipote.

It was common in the working trades to labor next to those that were older, and learn from them. That was the compact. The grail for the younger man was always the grudging respect you could earn with your effort from the older and wiser man. His nephews all took a run at it. Uncle Ray wore us all out. We brought in reinforcements and they flagged. He's retired now, long after he should have been. Now he wears us out with his tomatoes. Someday he'll wear out the other archangels with his smile.


Bruce G Charlton said...


Mis-print in the penultimate line.

Tamara said...

This brings back lovely memories of my Zio Joe, who had an enormous garden (well, enormous to an 8 yr old's eyes, anyway) where he would grow luscious tomatoes and other good things. He also made his own wine.

Every nipote should be blessed with such a zio as this.

Becky said...

Adscriptus glebae, one of the benefits of my NYC private school education.

Though I'm now married to a farmer (and home educating the nippers and yes, with some Latin) and very much tied to the land. My husband is also a builder, and I do like that the kids work alongside, and learn from, us, year-round. Though I'll be the first to admit this isn't particularly normal by North American standards anymore.

SippicanCottage said...

Becky- Thanks for that. I can't tell you how that vexed me trying to recall it.

Thanks Bruce-I fixed it.

Tamara- Zio is a lovely word, isn't it? Raphael is a lovely uncle, so the title fits.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Apt that he is named after an archangel.

My Dad earned his living in the soil, too. "Who plants a seed beneath the sod and waits to grow believes in God."

Anonymous said...

My ancestors (worked on the I-M canal before purchasing the farm) were tied to the soil for 3-4 generations in Northern Illinois, But my Dad's siblings left for Chicago. Dad stayed behind, but went to work in the coal mines when his father wouldn't mechanize the farm.

Didn't matter in the end. The government took the farm for the Joliet Arsenal in WWII. It's now a nature preserve. Wish we could have gotten it back. Fond memories of my Grandfather and two Great Aunts.

Studied Latin for four years under the Benedictines. Don't recall adscriptus glebae, but then I don't recall my declensions either. It was a while back :)


Sissy Willis said...

It was "Greek" to me, but I WAS able to find the correct Latin words and etymology for adscriptus glebae via a somewhat contorted google search:

(from Lat. ad, on or to, and scribere, to write + glēba, clod)

Write to Clod? Write on Clod? Right on, Clod!

Right on Karen, too, for knowing without benefit of google.

Janet said...

He must be related to my very Italian father-in-law. His garden is positively frightening.