The Littlest Fig Tree


As far back as I can remember, when it came to growing fig trees, my dad had a green thumb. His trees were always loaded with the largest and sweetest figs in town. And every year as we helped him fill bucket after bucket, he would tell us his secrets:

“Always plant two. They need each other to bear fruit. Water every third day if there’s no rain, fertilize every spring and trim the limbs back during the winter.”

For those seven years we spent growing up on Flamingo, Dad repeated those instructions as we helped pick his figs during the last week of July and first three weeks of August. He laughed whenever we said we were finished.

“Go back and check again. Lift the leaves. Figs are shy; they like to hide from you.” And he was right. Every time we’d go back to check the trees and lift the leaves, another bucket was soon filled of those “shy” figs.

Picking and eating fresh figs off his trees is one of my fondest memories of our time spent together. So, when The Wife and I built our house sixteen years ago, finding the right spot to plant fig trees was an important task. But as often happens in life, more important things demanded our attention and time.

The planting of fig trees was placed on a wish list — a list, it seemed, we’d never get around to. Finally, about six years ago, Dad came up for a visit and gave me a birthday present. Two small fig trees.

He and I planted the trees on the side of a hill at the end of our driveway. The hill got plenty of sun, had good drainage, and was away from the house and other trees that might block the light. For the first few years, I cared (somewhat) for the two small figs, trying to water every third day if there wasn’t any rain, forgetting to fertilize one spring, but remembering the next. And never did I trim the limbs back during the winter.

In a perfect world, the side of the hill was the best spot for the two fig trees to flourish. But this world is far from perfect. A year later we lost one of the trees. In July of that same year, we also lost Dad.

The remaining tree wouldn’t bear any fruit until we planted another. Dad said it took two. But the memory of his passing was too harsh of a reality for me to face. And so, another year passed, life happened, and the lonely little fig tree on the side of the hill was neglected once again. The spindly limbs couldn’t even hold the smallest of climbers without breaking.

Another year went by and then another. For years our tree has now grown on the hill at the end of our driveway. Still, it produced no figs. Eventually life afforded me the time last winter to properly tend to the tree that Dad and I planted so long ago.

Dad left us over four years ago, but not a day goes by without my hearing his voice and seeing his smile. The once spindly fig tree we planted is now a massive reminder of our last year together. Last winter, I also cut down a tree that was blocking sunlight from reaching the fig tree. I also trimmed the fig tree limbs back. At the start of this spring, I fertilized around the base of the tree. Every third day if there was no rain, I made sure to water it. All these are what Dad repeatedly told my brothers, The Sister and me to do back when we were growing up back on Flamingo.

What has happened is nothing short of amazing. Our fig tree now stands over twenty feet tall with dark green, dinner plate-sized leaves. Its huge limbs stretch towards the sky. And it’s a good thing that they’re so big and strong because for the last four weeks I’ve lost count how many buckets of figs our two granddaughters and I have picked together.

And every time they come in with a full bucket, saying that they got them all, I remember Dad, smile, and follow them back out to the tree. “Figs like to hide; they’re really shy. You have to lift up every leaf to find them.”

Whenever I pass our tree we planted together, I’ll remember. And every time the girls and I pick figs, I’ll tell them the secrets you taught me. Thanks, Dad, for all your advice about life … and figs.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]