Growing up back home, summer meant waking up before dawn on Saturdays to my father singing “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain” or “This Train is Bound for Glory”, his signal that it was time to pile in the truck and head to the country. There were vegetables and fruit to be gathered, and he wanted us pullin’ and pickin’ before the South Georgia heat became unbearable.
(Ripe figs growing in west Chatham County)
I hated those mornings and if put to an oath would have to admit that I had some very un-Christian thoughts about my Papa rolling around in my head on those outings. Besides being a typical teenager, I also suffered from a malfunctioning internal temperature gauge that stayed stuck on “HIGH HEAT” most of the time; I mean, I can break into a sweat just walking out onto the porch. Daddy would have us all dressed in full-length trousers (in case of snakes) and long sleeve shirts (to help keep the okra or peach fuzz off your skin); I would be soaking wet by the time I pulled my first ear of corn off a stalk and it wouldn’t even be 7 a.m. yet. By mid-morning when we were finished you could literally wring water out of my shirt and underclothes.
(Mama and Daddy, circa 1949)
But that was decades ago, and during that lapse of time, I can’t go to a farmer’s market or see a picture of fresh vegetables without thinking about my Mama and Daddy….and how I’d gladly give up a Saturday or any other hot, summer morning to have the chance to be in the middle of a tomato patch with the two of them, sweating away. Funny how things in life, particularly loss, can change your views and outlook. One of our summer staples was the brown turkey fig; Daddy dearly loved Mama’s homemade biscuits and a bowl of her incredible fig preserves. She cooked hers whole, poaching them slowly in a big boiler until a thick, sweet-tea colored syrup was made. We gathered them at my cousin Joyce’s place down in rural Dooly County; she had fig trees so tall you needed a 10’ step ladder to reach the upper limbs.
(A jar of my whole fig preserves, using Mama’s recipe)
Until recently, I had not picked any figs in years; the ones I used for cooking usually came from Davis Produce or the grocery store. Through a random conversation with a gentleman at the Piggly Wiggly, I received an invitation to drive out to his place in the little town of Faulkville and “pick all the figs I wanted.” So last Saturday I retrieved two half-bushel baskets, a washcloth to clean my hands with – figs can be sticky – and a towel to mop the sweat off my head and made my way to west Chatham County. I drove up to find a comfortable looking white clapboard home, complete with a tin roof and screened in porch, and a big, magnificent fig tree full of ripe brown fruit. Even though it was the middle of a humid afternoon in July, with the temperature well into the 90’s, I took my sweet time with my chore. I stood inside the low-reaching limbs of the tree, admiring the big, sage-green colored leaves covered in their dust-like fuzz, and carefully picked each dangling, plump fig that I could reach. And with each one I placed in my basket, I lovingly thought about my Mama and Daddy, hot buttered biscuits, and summers back home.