Letter from the Editor: Up from the Ashes
When I was very young and unevolved (so, in my low double digits), nothing shamed me more than my backyard. While other girls, who wore Guess jeans and expensive sneakers, could run their eyes over velvet lawns, my own were met by the visible proof that my family were freaks. Oh, there was a flyblown compost heap that we fed from an open bucket on the kitchen counter (I mean, ew), and, instead of grass, a ratty vegetable garden that produced tomatoes, strawberries and, for a couple of memorable years, sensimilla. Worst of all, there were five fig trees that spent half the year bound in the motley florals of old vinyl tablecloths. At night, these things looked like five staggering drunks; it was all so unspeakably trashy.
The figs were planted by my maternal great-grandfather who, though ancient, came from the family compound in Sheepshead Bay to do it. In his dotage, this man would pick off “boids” with a pellet gun when they dared to feed off his trees. The trees themselves had been carried over the ocean as sticks when my frontiering ancestors brought their remaining kin over from Bari, Italy. Thrust into the rich soil of Brooklyn, the sticks took root. And, later, to christen my parents’ new house, some sticks came to Westchester.
It was my father’s job to care for these Barese figs that did not want to live in Westchester. There were challenges: namely, my father (a history professor) was Scots-Irish and totally out of the cultural loop. Nevertheless, he clipped articles and queried old Italian men because, by then, my great-grandfather had died. My father learned to wrap the trees against winter, leaving the top open (but covered by inverted pails) for ventilation. He fed the trees rich compost, and watered them while the figs were still green nubs, taking care to stop before their hardening skins could split.
Oh, how I hated that fruit, whose squirmy purple interiors looked so pornographic. When a fig ripened, it would nod on its stem until its tip emitted a single, obscene drip of sugar. Figs go well with stinky cheese and prosciutto, but all I craved were Guess jeans and Yodels. When my mother left, and my father decamped with his second wife, no one (especially me) wrapped and watered the figs. There were years of very few figs, and some winters killed the trees down to the ground.
But, by then, those roots were strong. Even with our neglect, the trees always came back. Before my father died, he asked that we bury some of his ashes in the figs, and, Reader, we did it. That’s when I inherited the house, the compost, the figs and the dead guy in them.
Nowadays, I lavish the trees in water and compost, and, every spring, those figs rise up from the ashes.
Julia Sexton, Editor-in-Chief | @juliasexton