30 October 2010

Fig Trees and Memories

The smell of figs is like catnip to me. It makes me happy. One sniff and I am immediately transported to my grandmother's home in El Sobrante. She lived on the top of a small hill that had a view of the San Pablo Bay. I lived with my grandmother for several years after my parents split up. I can't tell you that it was a happy time which is odd since the smell of figs makes me happy. It's just part of the time that was mine and in the middle of my childhood chaos I found sanctuary in a fig tree. I was young and fairly self-sufficient from the very beginning and since Grandma was not the affectionate involved type, I had many hours of solitude. I liked to spend that time perched in one of her fig trees. There I could observe the world go through its motions and nobody noticed I was watching. They were completely oblivious to the running commentary in my inner monologue. I made mental notes on everything. For instance, I bet you didn't know you could sing all the songs you learned in kindergarten before the ship in San Pablo Bay seemed to move even a tiny bit across the water, but if you forgot to watch it for a minute or two, it would be all but gone. Or that when my grandfather was concentrating on something, his head shook from side to side like he was telling the thing he was working on, "No!." And that my grandmother, who said she bought the house for the view, never once looked outside to see it. Not while I was spying on her anyway.

It was in the fig tree that I could safely think thoughts about my mom. My grandmother hated my mother and didn't bother to hide her feelings from me or from anyone who dared to ask. I quickly learned to be silent where my mother was concerned but when I was in my fig tree I was safe to think whatever I wanted. I could miss her there and even cry about it without being yelled at or interrogated. I could long for my siblings and wonder if they liked to climb trees too. Where was their special place to be safe? Did they envy me as much as I envied them? What had I done wrong that mom left me behind when she took them and started a new life? If I climbed high enough in the tree, I could see Interstate 80. Would I be able to recognize her car if I saw it? I determined that I could and so I watched the cars with interest but in truth they were too far away for me to identify much more their color. It didn't matter though because the sad thoughts of being left behind never lasted long while I was in my tree. There were too many wonders to behold. This was especially true when the fruit in the tree was beginning to ripen.

The best tasting figs are the ones with the necks just starting to bend from the weight of the fruit. When you pick them then, a little bit of milk will dot the severed end. That tells you that the fruit was still getting nutrients from the tree and had not started to dry out. Too much milk and you'd picked it too soon, the fruit would be moist but not juicy. When it's ripe the body of the fig is a little soft and feels like an under-filled water balloon. Figs have stripes but when they are perfectly ripe those stripes are harder to see. If you eat them when they are warm from the afternoon sun, they are juicier. If you split them open at various stages you can see their how their colors deepen from pastels to near jewel tones. They are a marvelous pink and brown with tiny yellow seeds and the underside of their black skin is a creamy white color. Sometimes you find under-ripe, ripe and overripe figs all on the same branch. That's a treasure because then you can have a comparison of color, taste, smell and texture. Fig leaves are a tiny bit fuzzy like sand paper with a fine grit. The leaves smell wonderful and will rub the smell your Grandmother's Vantage cigarettes off your skin but it will scratch a little. This is why despite their other amazing attributes, fig leaves didn't seem a suitable leaf to use as clothing like the picture I had seen in my uncle's art books.

Figs are however, a good fruit to eat when you want to test how loose your tooth is. An apple would surely snatch a baby tooth out too violently to be a painless procedure. If you use an over ripe fig, you can gently test how much your tooth moves as you gingerly bite down. Once the tooth has been extracted in a careful series of bite experiments, you can conduct additional research- like just how much of a ripe fig you eat by breaking it open and sucking the contents through the hole where your tooth used to be. By the way, ripe juicy figs should never be compared to or confused with dried figs like those awful Fig Newtons. They are not the same fruit. I refuse to allow it. Though I have to admit I did like the Fig Newton commercial with the guy in the fig costume dancing. He was comical but real figs are beautiful.

I have both a painting of figs and a framed print of some figs that hang in my kitchen. I have fig scented soap and perfume too. More importantly I also have a fig tree growing in a pot. This morning the fields were covered with frost and I was glad that I had taken my fig tree into the house a few weeks ago, even though it lost its leaves and that's sad. I had planted one out in the yard a few years ago but an over zealous landscaper mowed over it as if it were nothing more than kudzu. They don't really grow figs here in Kentucky and it's difficult to find a variety that will survive the winters. I am on my third attempt. This one looks a bit like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but they say the third time is a charm. Here's hoping.

Song of Solomon 2:13 'The fig tree has ripened its figs, and the vines in blossom have given forth {their} fragrance. Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along!'"


Jackie Pickett said...

Rosemarie, what a beautiful and sad memory. I am so sorry you had to experience that rejection as a child. I went through that also, with my mom, my dad, and my first love. One evening, as an adult, I had been remembering these abandonments, and was crying. I was listening to Julie Miller(a folk singer), and just as I had started to cry, her song, 'Orphan Train' started to play. It's a lovely song about how the Lord adopts us when we have been orphaned by ones who should have loved us. I think the sadness of being orphaned made being adopted by Him that much more wonderful. Thank you for sharing about your beautiful fig tree. What a God-sent shelter it was for you. How encouraging.

rosemarie said...

Thanks Jackie. I am so grateful to you for commenting on my blog, especially when I write something that's just me being a bit vulnerable with memories. Age has given me a different perspective on them. Songs can be so helpful. For me it's a song written by Bob Bennett called "Lord of the Past." The first verse and chorus caught my attention while I as wrestling with the absolute sovereignty of God.

"Every harsh word spoken
Every promise ever broken to me
Total recall of data in the memory
Every tear that has washed my face
Every moment of disgrace that I have known
Every time I've ever felt alone

Lord of the here and now
Lord of the come what may
I want to believe somehow
That you can heal these wounds of yesterday
(You can redeem these things so far away)
So now I'm asking you
To do what you want to do
Be the Lord of the Past
(Be the Lord of my Past)
Oh how I want you to
Be the Lord of the Past"