I am not particularly fond of figs. An occasional appetizer featuring goat cheese and a rare Newton constitute the breadth of my appreciation of this beauty of summer.
My mother, on the other hand, was exceptionally fond of figs. She ate them not quite by the handful, like sunflower seeds or salted peanuts, but close. She would sit down with a Tupperware bowlful in her lap and finish them off one by one, pinching the stems between her fingers and bringing the figs to her mouth in a kind of slow and languid choreography. She was, as I said, exceptionally fond of figs.
It is that fondness — hers not mine — that has had me at her fig tree, the one that anchors the corner of the backyard, every few days for the past couple of weeks, picking figs that I won’t eat but can’t see go to waste.
I have thought a lot about Mama on those hot sticky mornings and hot sticky afternoons on which I have stuck my hands into the thick green foliage to harvest the ponderous globes that dangle from thick branches like pearl earrings on the sagging lobes of an old woman. I have thought about the way this tree in this yard mimics the one in her mother’s yard, how she and my grandmother stood in the shade of that tree and talked in a way they never talked inside the house, how I am just beginning to understand how women, all women, eventually become their mothers.
The first morning I went to pick figs I was prepared. I had buckets and a step-ladder and kitchen shears. I picked right at a gallon and the pile of purple and chartreuse inside the black bucket was so strikingly beautiful that I took a photo before delivering them to a friend to make preserves.
A couple of afternoons later, I was less prepared. I had just come from the garden where the okra and squash and cucumbers were proving to be faster in their production than Daddy and I were in our picking. I had no step-ladder and no shears, only a bucket. I immediately realized my mistake in trying to pick figs without a knife or shears or something other than my thumbnail to loose them from their branches and, in less than 10 minutes, my thumb was pulsing and tender in the way that only someone who has spent a summer afternoon shelling butterbeans in front of a box fan would understand.
I relieved the tree of all the figs I could reach from the ground and took the bucket home where I poured its contents into a plastic grocery bag and gently placed it in the refrigerator. I held my sticky hands under the kitchen spigot, staring at my thumb, red and slightly swollen, and it occurred to me that the simultaneous presence of beauty and pain, of abundance and discomfort, of sweet remembrance and lingering sorrow is an unavoidable juxtaposition.
There is no calendar counting down days between wounding and recovery, no ticking clock for the watchful eye to monitor, no straight shot from here to there. There is only the reality of this day and the anticipation of the next. There is only sharing what there is to share, remembering what there is to remember, and loving what there is to love.