Joyous and sweaty, I’m walking back from the park after a run. Still half a block from home, I imagine I see a figure underneath the branches of our front-yard fig tree. As I draw closer, I realize that, in fact, there is someone under the fig tree! And it is a human, not a gleaning squirrel or pack of shape-shifting starlings come to steal the last batch of ripe figs.
Though a bit nervous about who might be awaiting me, I make my voice smile as I call out, Hello, good morning! Out from under the tangled branches drooping with fruit scurries a small old woman, bowing slightly. Now I smile with my face, asking, Would you like some figs?
She’s carrying a canvas shopping bag. She’s dressed as my Gramma Jewell dressed – jeans, tennis shoes, a simple windbreaker. She glances around and then points to a particular low branch laden with perfect fruit – not too ripe, no visible wounds inflicted by birds or bees, not glowing under-ripe green. I start picking her figs and chattering away, Good idea! Picking figs before the weather changes is on my list today. Thanks for getting me started on my task!
As I offer her the first handful of figs, she says, Sorry. I say, Oh, it is okay! I am happy to share my figs with you, I have more than I can possibly keep up with. She says, again, Sorry, and then, Little speak English. I almost laugh as I realize that her apology wasn’t for stealing figs but for not understanding what I was nattering on about!
So, I reach out my hand, bow to my elder, and say, I am Jenny. She takes my hand and responds, Husband love fig. Then I pick her another big handful of figs from a higher branch I can barely reach. As I offer her the figs, she holds her canvas bag open to show me the crabapples she’s gathered. I ask, Oh! Who has crabapples in their yard?
I want to tell her about Fred, my best neighborhood friend who died almost 10 years ago – I miss him mightily! — and how the big tree in our front yard from which I just picked her figs originated from Fred’s fig tree which used to live across the street where the big blue house (in the row of three big blue houses) now stands. Fred’s fig tree had been around almost as long as he had – well into its ninth decade. Fred gave me open and unlimited access to his fig tree, leaving the tall rickety ladder inside the tree so I could scramble up to pick fruit in the tallest of branches.
Fred also offered me a clipping from his fig tree which he had rooted in a plastic container of dirt. After we planted it in our front yard, Isobel and I wondered if it was going to make it as it really didn’t grow (and one time, I accidentally ran over it with the lawn mower! I was horrified.). But, as if by magic, a couple of years after Fred died, after his garden was destroyed to make way for the big blue house, our little fig tree began to grow….and grow…and grow. Now, it is almost as tall as the house and occupies the entire front yard (a fact I absolutely adore and about which I make no secret). This past spring, Simeon hired an arborist, and I braced myself, assuming he’d advise that we cut our fig tree down to a more suitable size. Much to our surprise, he recommended we leave fig alone (for now).
When she’s gotten her fill of figs, she says, Thanks you. Happy day. I respond, Come back again. Knock on the door. We can pick figs. She doesn’t seem to understand me, so I say it again but with gestures, pointing at the front door and knocking the air. She shakes her head in understanding, and says, Tomorrow I come. Happy.