The Scots' gathering was winding down. This would be the last night for all of us, and I was tasked to return the empty barrels to the winery co-op.
At the winery, I received the hefty deposits for the barrels from the manager of the co-op, and for some reason (I suppose, trying to be polite), I blurted out an invitation to him and his workers to the closing night of the gathering. Obviously, as an American winery intern vacationing on the coast of France during the fall of 1968, I was not, in any way, authorized to invite anyone to any part of the gathering. But I thought the chance of the French workers actually coming to the closing ceremony was remote.
The early fall weather was cooperating beautifully, and we all made provisions to strike the camp in the morning and exchange personal information to keep in touch. I was assigned to help three elderly couples with their belongings and make sure that everything was in order for the departure from the pasture the next day.
In one tent I found a very elderly man sitting with his back to the pasture and his face toward the English Channel. He had lost his wife some years earlier, and as I helped him get his belongings together, he thanked me very solemnly. I could see that he had been crying and I felt very awkward being alone with him in his tent sharing an intimate moment.
He asked me to sit down with him, which I did. He began to tell me about how much he missed his wife, the happiness the gathering had given him and, finally, how he didn't think he would live long enough to witness another gathering.
I didn't know how to respond to him. My first inclination was to reassure him that well, of course he was going to witness another gathering. This reassurance was waved away gently but firmly, and he looked me very intensely in the eyes. He implored me to promise him that the gatherings would continue for a very long time and that I would do my best to help make this so. I found myself in a moral dilemma. Should I tell him I had nothing to do with the gatherings or should I simply tell him that I would do my best?
By now he was squeezing my forearm pretty tightly and not taking his eyes from me. Finally, I told him that I would do the "best I could" to see that the gatherings would continue. In an instant, he let go of my arm, nodded gratefully, and turned around slowly to face the Channel once again. I continued in his tent, trying to gather things for the trash and to get some semblance of order to his belongings and help him pack. This entire episode unnerved me quite a bit and I was happy to leave the confines of the tent.
After some wonderful grilled food, the last of the spirits and a few noteworthy speeches, we all headed down to the beach and set up over a hundred luau-style oil lamps and started two enormous bonfires. It appeared that the traditional ending of every gathering was a tug-of-war. As we stood to be chosen for sides, we heard, quite distinctly, a commotion above us on the coast road. Within a few seconds, and much to our surprise, there appeared a horde of Frenchmen and their families. Oh my God, what had I done?
Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To see previous columns about his adventures as a winery intern in France, go to www.dailytidings.com/razzano.