In fond memory of a great man, I’d like to begin this story by saying, “Now let me tell you something!”
Now, Evangeline, let me tell you something about a tree that was given to me as a gift by a loving Italian man tre anni fa (three years ago). It started as a twig taken from a fig tree, and was nursed carefully by your Papa O. until it was gift-worthy enough to hand down to your mother. This wasn’t just any type of tree, Eva. Figs are delicate and difficult to grow in our climate. They belong in the more tropical climate of Calabria, in the south of Italy, but Papa O. made a warm home for them here, just as he did for anyone or anything that crossed his path.
The fig tree thrived in our home, protected by the strength of our walls through its first two winters and was able to stay warm through its infancy. This past winter, the tree grew too large to be kept in our humble home, and so faced the harshness of our winter outdoors. Though wrapped warmly, the weather was just too much for our little tree. In late Spring, the fig tree came out of its wrapping and showed signs of death, but your mother planted it in the garden and has kept careful watch over it, hoping the summer would take the tree under its wings, and nurse it back to health.
I still have our fig tree planted in our garden. It has not grown, only withered, and perhaps the time has finally come to remove it from its home amongst the thriving vegetables and flowers that are its neighbors. Each morning, and every night, I have come to the garden to check it for signs of life. I have scratched its bark and fertilized it with care.
Since the day we welcomed this tree into our home, I have diligently tended to its needs. And, somewhere in the depths of my mind, I have always felt that this great gift carried with it a prophetic message. It was only today, Evangeline, that when I walked to the garden to scratch our tree’s bark, that I finally accepted its death. Its branches were too tired, too sick, and no amount of warm sun and protective soil could make it bear fruit again.
I sometimes wonder if the tree could have survived the cold New York winters if it had remained in Papa’s care. He had a special touch, a careful hand. Everything in Papa’s garden always thrived. He would plant his tomatoes from seed and watch them with such love and joy until they were large enough to plant in his large, loyally-tended garden, where they would live closely amongst the other plants that he looked after with similar devotion; with an unyielding faith and love.
I had been lying to Papa O. all spring and summer about our fig tree. I told him it was thriving, bursting with sweet figs and big green leaves. But when Papa became very sick, it wore on my conscience. I told Papa O. that his fig tree was looking as though it would not give us fruit this summer and I feared that it might never again. Anticipating his grave disappointment, I spoke softly as I told him the truth. But Papa looked up at me and spoke strongly. He told me that it was ok. That our winter was so harsh that even the best of the fig trees hadn’t survived. He then looked at me with his puppy brown eyes and gave me a knowing wink.
Rest in peace, dear Papa O. And, Evangeline… each time you see a fig, a tomato, or a even a kind gesture, think of him. Because, truly, everything he grew or touched was simply “the best.”
With great sadness,