/The voice in the grapevine 

The voice in the grapevine 

By Jim Poling Sr. 

I was having a genuinely down moment saying goodbye at the end of a physical distancing visit to my son’s home in Hamilton.
don’t get to see our children and grandchildren often now because of
the pandemic. And when we do we can’t hug them, shake hands or even get
close to them.
It’s depressing, not just for us but for millions of others.
was already feeling down when I arrived for the visit. I had fought the
miserable Toronto area traffic to get to my dentist’s office. After
some less-than-joyful poking, drilling and grinding I was back cursing
the Highway 403 traffic en route to Hamilton.
The visit was outside
and brief and as we were saying goodbye, my son pointed to an alluring
grapevine canopy at the rear of his house. He told me raccoons were
driving him crazy, sneaking into the vines late at night and making off
with the fruit.
As I listened, I put out my hand and leaned against
the grapevine’s trunk. My down mood lifted as the vine’s energy pulsed
beneath my fingertips.
“That’s from Compare Frank,” my son said. “He gave me a slip from one of his vines when we moved here many years ago.”
clutched tightly the trunk, now the thickness of a large man’s wrist,
and felt a surge of optimism and love of life. I was feeling the
positive energy of my good friend Compare Frank. Although he passed away
five years ago, I could feel his spirit flowing in that vine.
Frank was Francesco Covella, my pal and the kid brother I never had. We
called each other Compare, the Italian reference for comrade, or
The energy in the vine got me thinking about the Covid-19
crisis and Compare Frank. How would he handle the pandemic, which has
become one of the saddest periods of many people’s lives?
Sad not
just because of the separation from family and friends. Not just because
we can’t shake someone’s hand, or place a hand on their shoulder, or
any of those other signs of goodwill and appreciation.
Sad because of
all the hard-working, expectant folks who put their dreams and their
money into small businesses that are suffering horribly. Sad because of
the folks who are having trouble meeting the rent or the mortgage
payment because their jobs have been suspended for months.
In a way I
am glad Compare Frank is not here to witness the sadness, suffering and
the nastiness that this pandemic has brought. They are the antithesis
of his style of living, which was to be happy and work through
difficulties with perseverance and patience.
I’ll never forget the
scene when Compare Frank decided my old house in Ottawa needed a bigger
basement. The project would require breaking concrete and digging out a
nine by 12 space with hand shovels.
 “It can’t be done,” I cried with unrestrained disgust.
Compare Frank turned his calloused palms upward and shrugged his shoulders.
he said, calling me by the special name bestowed when he had become my
son’s godfather, “this is not difficult if you don’t want it to be. Let
me teach you.”
The basement room got dug out, as I later recalled in a Readers’ Digest story, and in this column.
Compare Frank taught me not just how to shovel properly, but how to work through life’s difficult times.
pandemic is more difficult than shovelling out a basement, no matter
how deep or how hard the earth. There is the stress of having to
remember to wear masks, avoid crowds, keep two metres space between
everyone, including friends and family, and give up many things that are
important parts of our normal lives.
A contrarian attitude about
masks and physical distancing, and complaining about the inconveniences,
distracts us from the critical work of overcoming the Covid-19 virus.
We need to focus exclusively on getting the job done.
A week has
passed since my visit and I still hear Compare Frank’s voice pulsing
through the grapevine that he gave to his godson:
“Don’t think about
how difficult the work is, or how much more remains to be done. Think
positive and persevere. Focus on the task to overcome it, one shovelful
at a time.”