A Tale of Two Trees

Anyone who loves fresh figs will agree there is nothing more pleasurable then devouring them picked fresh off the low branches of their backyard tree. My favorite plump ripe luscious black figs are always my first choice.  Standing next to the low slung branches trying to decide which were ripe to perfection was an early morning ritual.  The recent sale of our California home took me down memory lane to how those two very tasty fig trees arrived in the yard.

The story begins in 1972, returning from my annual trip to the Dalmatian coast with my mother.  As we were flying over the Atlantic, my mother began to fidget with her ‘pockabook’. As I watched her I began to ponder why she was so intense in her search.  I inquired if she had lost something or perhaps needed her handkerchief.

She never left home without one

She never left home without one

Yes my mother was a lady who always carried one of those lovely embroidered linen handkerchiefs; she never left home without one!  Candy was another staple in that purse, as her grandchildren can attest.  My mother fit the vision of the typical grandmother.  She never wore pants, always in a dress, her hair was pure white and short, glasses perched on her face precariously and never, never without a ‘pockabook’ filled with goodies.

But then, on that plane, something was amiss and my concern intensified as she made her announcement.  “Go into the lavatory; take 2 or 3 sheets of paper towels. Wet them with cold water, wring them only slightly and bring them to me immediately.”

My mind raced wildly, as it was not a request but a strong command, and when I returned to my seat I inquired why she needed these items.  Her innocent response, as she smiled sweetly, “No reason. I just need them.”  Then, as I watched her take out several small stems which I immediately recognized as fig tree cuttings, my gasp probably was audible to the entire plane.  I began to panic while watching her delicately wrap and store her cuttings, my mind full with thoughts of both of us being incarcerated trying to clear customs.  My mother was smuggling fig cuttings from the trees in her front yard in Orebic!

White house next to the sea in Orebic

White house next to the sea in Orebic

There I sat 40,000 feet in the air on a TWA flight to Los Angeles with my mother next to me, coyly smiling holding her purse tightly in her lap.  We were about to land and my mind raced. I pleaded with her to dump the cuttings before we cleared customs.  She would not or could not comprehend my fear of being taken into one of those small rooms, being interrogated why we were breaking the law.  My pleas fell on deaf ears, she was going to get those cuttings into the USA and nothing was going to change her mind.

TWA returning to Los Angeles

TWA returning to Los Angeles

We passed passport control easily and were then standing in front of a customs official. No “profiling” in those days, I still was sure that I would probably faint at any minute and the official would know we had contraband.  I know I was perspiring, my face red; surely he would know I was guilty and an accessory to a crime?

My imagination running amok

My imagination running amok

He smiled at my mother and inquired where we had been.  She gave her best grandmotherly smile and in the worst English possible, heavy on the Croatian accent, the greatest act of her life “Oh I went to see sister in old country.”  I have no idea what the customs official thought, but he just melted at her performance and waved us past the baggage inspection.

Celebrating 100 years, my mother Tera, son Walt, neighbor Delores and grandson Bob

Celebrating 100 years, my mother Tera, son Walt, neighbor Delores and grandson Bob

My father waiting outside of customs, grabbed our bags and we were soon driving home to Sherman Oaks. The precious cuttings of the fig trees were safely in her hands.  She was handling them as though they were a golden treasure and I watched her eyes tear up.  This small contraband was her lasting link to her birth home, the village, and country which she loved so dearly.