My father had the most magnificent fig tree in his yard. It was about twenty-five feet tall and the breadth of its branches was almost as wide. Though he would never actually confirm it, the rumor is that he bred the tree using cuttings smuggled here from a bigger and even more magnificent fig tree that sits on the grounds of his ancestral home in Italy. I have seen that original tree with my own eyes, and eaten its fruit. It is amazing!
Dad’s fig tree was the jewel in his garden. He babied and fussed over it. He nurtured it through winters that were too cold and summers that were too hot. That tree was the Goldilocks of fig trees. Everything about it was just right, including the lush, moist fruit that grew from it. Dad’s figs were almost the size of small fists! Ripened by the sun, their flesh was so sweet that droplets of dew-like nectar oozed freely from them. There was nothing – and, I mean nothing, people – that could rival the taste of my father’s figs.
Almost five years ago, on a grey November day, cancer stole my father away. Within two weeks, the fig tree dropped all of its leaves, shriveled up and died. I kid you not. It was like the tree was in mourning and died of a broken heart. The only sign of life that has come from that tree since is the occasional appearance of a gorgeous, crimson cardinal, who swoops in from time to time and perches itself on a bare, brittle branch. The bird just sits there, calmly looks around for a minute or two, and then flies off again.
None of us has the heart to chop down the fig tree. Dad loved that tree, and to do so would almost be like losing him all over again. So it still stands in its place beside the house as a bittersweet reminder of what once was.