by Eames J. Thai, guest blogger
Many years ago, when my dad worked at a Fred Myer in high school, he bought a small fig sapling on the clearance section there for 25 cents. An immigrant from Vietnam, his family often had things that were given to them or that they managed to acquire cheaply. Wilted and neglected, the poor sapling was brought back home by my father. Once my grandma saw it, she wasn’t at all phased by the look of the depressed fruit tree and immediately planted it in their backyard.
Thirty years later and the fig tree is tall, healthy, and bears lots of fruit every season.
My Ba Noi (Grandmother) brings us the figs from the tree in her backyard each year. She carries them from house to house with each fruit lovingly wrapped in paper towels and stacked in a bag with care. From a young age, they were my favorite fruit, so delicious and sweet. Ba Noi knew how much I loved them, so one day many years later, she brought us our own small fig tree sapling. Once again, it was on sale and not in the best condition.
We planted this one in the corner of our back yard. It was merely a tall stick with a Y at the top. We watered it and put mulch around it. A year later, it had grown a bit but no fruit. The following year, it was bigger still and sprouted its first few fruits. The next year, the Y shape at the top was broadening, so my dad used string to train it and pull the branches closer together. That year, there were more branches and leaves, and about 20 figs had blossomed on its branches. This past year, the fig tree has grown taller and stronger and bore dozens of sweet, delicious figs.
We spoke to a botanist at our local nursery who told us that most varieties of fig cannot grow here in the Northwest because it’s not hot enough here for them to fully ripen. So, there are only a few species of fig that can grow in Seattle weather. Our fig tree, the Desert King fig, is one of those species.
In Spring as the fruit appears we begin counting them. Throughout the season, we like to keep a close eye on the figs, so we can pick them at peak ripeness and ensure birds or insects don’t get to them. The birds love our cherries but have not bothered the figs much. Our theory is that that the colossal leaves on the tree camouflage the figs from the birds, which is why they don’t eat them. We watch the figs while they ripen on our tree, gently squeezing them and watching for them to droop down indicating their ripeness. We get a ladder and help our dad pick the figs every year. It’s an exciting time for us.
My family loves figs, but we don’t get to eat them too often. There’s only a small window of time when they grow in our backyard, and they only appear in grocery stores for a short period as well. But when we do get to eat them, we enjoy them in many ways. I like to bite right into them while my mom gently pulls them apart showing their light pink flesh. My family doesn’t just eat them raw, even though in my opinion that’s the best way to eat them. We also love to have them with brie or on toast with ricotta and a drizzle of honey. That’s my mom’s favorite.
No matter how we eat them, they are a reminder of life’s sweetness.
Like these fig trees, my family came from meager beginnings. My Ba Noi came here on a boat with her four children, and my Dad and aunties worked in fields picking fruit alongside other immigrants at a very young age. Ba Noi eventually got a job as a caregiver in a day care. Their family moved around a lot but eventually found stability. Over time, they worked hard, got educations, and went from a family of five to over forty. Through it all, they had hope.
For many years to come, our fig trees and their fruit will serve as a reminder of all we have and all that is yet to come.
Dedicated to my Ba Noi, my Dad Hoa, and my aunties, Thuy, Thu, Thao, Bi, and Binh.