The place was overgrown. Shrubs had not been trimmed in years; paint was flaking on once proud dwellings. Only a whisper of more prosperous and joyous times remained.
Survey completed I was headed to my car when I saw it. Reaching from beneath the overgrown hedge the uniquely shaped leaf stretched toward the sun in a desperate attempt to survive in a hostile world. How had it gotten here? Was it a shoot from a root of a once proud but now gone tree? Whatever its origin, it reminded me of another time and another time.
I was a wee boy when I first became aware of the massive fig tree growing behind my grandfather’s workshop. Originally, it was one tree, but when I became aware of its presence in the yard it was two, one having grown from the roots of the first. My grandfather treasured that tree. Mostly, he treasured the fruits that came from that tree.
It became my assigned task to keep the fruits the tree bore safe from the fig destroying jay birds. Mine was the task of sitting on the stool beside the open window that looked out into the tangles limbs of that massive tree/shrub. Across my lap rested the .22 rifle. At the approach of the winged destroyer of those purple orbs of sweetness I slowly raised my rifle, took aim, and fired.
The jay birds and other winged creatures were unable to wreck their havoc upon those fruits as long as I was on duty. Actually, I don’t remember ever having actually shot a bird, but that rifle made a lot of noise.
When Mama died all the cousins headed for house to divvy up the objects of memory. I headed to the back yard, to a spot behind my grandfather’s old workshop. The tree, now ancient, stood proud with its limbs spread over a whole corner of the yard. My horticulturist wife dug in the ground and cut a root from the tangle.
She nursed that root in some secret concoction in my workshop for months. And on the appointed day we planted it. The first year it seemed but a twig, always in danger of being trampled. In two years it was chest high. In four years it began bushing out over its conquered territory. And the fifth year of its transplant there was produced three purple fruits. I picked one and sat down on the front porch of our cabin. In a slow motion born of anticipation I moved the fruit toward my mouth. I bit. The sweet juices trickled down my chin creating a joyful memory of childhood days enjoying the fruits of my protection. On a following day the other two were the highlight of breakfast.
My wife died a few months later. When later I married Lynn I left the cabin, and the fig tree. I did not possess the ability to nurse it through another transplant.
The weather is changing now. I wonder if that tree still thrives. I wonder if those folks who bought the house would allow me one bite.