Schiacciata ai fichi – simply a sweet bread with figs, but it sounds tastier in Italian. I’ve made it twice this spring, with figs picked from the tree in my friend’s yard. I learned to bake this treat while living in our last house, using the figs from the massive tree in our backyard. Of all the things from our home that I miss, I think I miss that fig tree the most. We brought the tree – when it was no more than a few twigs– from my mother’s yard in Alabama when we moved her here to Texas to live with us. Its new home had the perfect conditions; it grew so much in six years that it became a climbing tree covered in fruit. Having that tree in our backyard was almost enough to keep me from selling the house.
Even after building a house I designed myself, I had wanderlust – a congenital condition I inherited from my father. I remember watching him sitting with his coffee and the local ad paper, as he circled descriptions, addresses, phone numbers, etc. He’d gather his new findings and I’d climb in the back seat of the Dodge to go for a ride. Mom somehow knew he would never make an offer any of the property, but she humored him without argument, sitting beside him on the long trips.
Most of the houses we viewed were not immediately livable. Some were missing parts of the roof, and most needed air conditioning and a whole lot of paint. I remember few actual houses; we often looked at land, with a dream of a future house. Dad wanted to ‘get out and away from it all’. This was a funny sentiment, considering the town in which we lived had a population of less than 20,000 and the nearest interstate highway was a two-hour drive away. Still, Dad wanted less. I remember driving to see acreage in another state. We parked the car near a hill off an unpaved path and walked. We came to a cliff, and dad pointed across a valley of unapproachable vegetation. The land that we came to see was only accessible by helicopter. We laughed then, but I think my father would have liked to make that property work somehow.
What he said stopped him from moving to any of those ‘faraway’ places was the schools and our friends. If he lived alone, he might have pitched a tent on any of those properties we saw.
What I think stopped him though, was fear. Dad had moved many times during his lifetime, but most of those moves were by command of the Army. They told him where to go, when to get there, and made sure his belongings were packed and sent. His job was always waiting for him when he arrived. He didn’t need to make many decisions about it, and those that he did need to make were backed by the security and paycheck of the United States Army. Once he retired- choosing a place with good schools and a Catholic church- he was safely settled. Unfortunately, the part of him that needed to feel “safely settled” constantly wrestled with the part of him that longed to try something new. The safe side won every time, using fear of failure as its greatest weapon. If he stayed put, so he thought, he would have lost nothing because he had a home and a family. He was afraid to lose his house, his children, and his pride.
I think my father died a happy man. It wasn’t because he had found the perfect home though. He had a wife who adored him, children who loved them, and he had security in a Savior, which is no small feat in this world. But he left a piece of himself with me- the part that longs for something else, a change.
My mother was the opposite. She was happy in her small house they had built together. In fact, I had to practically drag her out of it when we decided she could no longer safely live alone. Her house had become an extension of herself, with memories too thick to sort through. It was difficult for her to detach the memories from the house and take one with her and not the other.
I don’t want to be like that. As sad as it is to not be completely happy where I am, I think it would be equally sad to become so attached to my surroundings that I can’t leave.
The fig tree more than tripled its size since we planted it all those years ago. The last year we lived in that house, it gave us the best crop ever. Besides daily snacks, I was able to harvest enough for special meals. The abundant harvest is not why I miss the tree; I miss the tree because it once grew in my parents’ yard. It’s a part of the home where I lived as a child- a home filled with memories, but where another family now sleeps. It will continue to grow there in that transplanted spot, as it grew too big to dig up and move again to another house. Perhaps it’s best that I wasn’t able to move that tree again. I’ll always keep their memories of being rooted – without being too attached to one place.