Friday, July 1, 2011

Picking Figs with Mama

The figs are getting ripe. Mama knows where ALL the large fig trees in Leakesville and surrounding communities are. She has a mental fig picking event calendar in that sweet and rambunctious head of hers and remembers from one year to the next where she's been invited to pick. Mama's one of those little old stooped over white haired shrunken apple doll faced ladies you all know at least one of. Even if a friend said last year to come on and just pick without asking, she never would. It would be rude. I think there's even a rule written down in one of those magazines in the kindergarten building amongst all Mama's stuff, saying it's rude to invite yourself anywhere, even with prior permission, and REAL Southerners simply do not do this.

Mama's been invited to Mrs. Sue's house to pick figs this week. She had already been down to the barn to check the chickens and let Sheba off her chain. Sheba is Mama's dog. The dog's mama is Queenie. Queenie is a huge black mouthed cur and Sheba is just huge. The brothers and I worry that Sheba might knock Mama down, causing severe injury to her, but Mama's to the point where she'll pick up anything throwable and lob it at the four-legged critter if it gets too rowdy. Mama was going to give Sheba away until last summer when the dutiful and loyal dog alerted the matron to a copperhead snake in the back yard. The canine has been the best dog to have around ever since then. Sheba guards the chickens at night, but that's another story for another day. Today was miserably hazy hot by 7:30 in the morning when Mama went to let the chickens out, feed them, and bring Sheba back up to the house.

The heat slows her down a good bit now. It took her a long hour after getting back from the barn to get her coffee drank, a bite for breakfast, her medicine taken, hat located, and another thirty minutes to drive the three miles into town. It was 9:00 before I got in the car, driving Mama to Mrs. Sue's to pick figs. It is hot. Very hot. I do not wish to pick figs this late in the day. The leaves are fuzzy and the bees will be out en mass and it'll be a hot itchy sweaty job. The thing I dread even worse is to have Mama hone her passive-aggressive skills on me.

The ice cream buckets and dish pans are on the back seat with Mama's rolling walker thingy. She has high expectations today. It didn't take nearly long enough to reach Mrs. Sue's house. Resigned with a martyrdom rivaling Saint Stephen, I get Mama's walker from the back seat along with the buckets, pans, cell phone, AND camera. I've learned doing anything for Mama requires documentation; she is noted for her daily imminent crisis moments and unscheduled dire events.

The sun isn't in the back yard on the fig trees yet. Aside from the humidity it's not too awful. The consumption of a half dozen ripe figs straight off the tree puts me in a better mood, must be all the natural sugar in them. Have you ever eaten a fig, warm from the heat of the morning, so perfectly ripe that it falls into your hand as you go to pick it? MMMmmmmmm...Perfect enough to merit being mentioned as growing in the Garden of Eden, they are.  Picking figs isn't so bad this day. I pick all the way around one of the three trees. Mama asks "Are you going to get the ladder?" This is her way of saying "Get your hind end up in the top of that tree and pick those figs before the mockingbirds get them." I managed three different excuses before she finally wore me down. The ladder is brought to the area of the highest concentration of ripe figs readily available.

Readily available means NOT folding the ladder, putting it on the ground, crawling into the middle of the tree, dragging the ladder in, setting it up, and climbing up it, with every wild honey bee from three counties swarming to the one limb I'll hold for stability as I stand on the top rung to reach the very choicest ripe figs. Nope. I'm going to make life a little simpler today and just pick around the tree. The ladder is stood in a nice clear area with figs overhead. I ascend the ladder, pleased that I can stand on the next to the top rung, for once, to reach the tantalizing fruit. Looking at Mama I see her belly shake, indicating mirth with something. I figure I'm a pretty amusing sight with my jeans shorts, stained sleeveless shirt, old tennis shoes, hair falling out of the clippy, up the ladder with an ice cream bucket hanging on my elbow. Mama's forever giggling about something I say or do. 

I didn't pay that jiggly belly any attention at all. Perhaps I should have. Reaching out to grab the most promising-laden limb several things happened simultaneously: I noticed a pattern of coloration that did NOT match the fig tree bark, it moved, I squealed, descended two rungs of the ladder, and Mama broke out in laughter. A RAT snake!!!!! In the FIG tree! It must be ten feet off the ground! We were both lucky I didn't call forth some of those words I remember Daddy using that he must've learned in the Army during WWII.

Ohhh...for a moment all I could do was look at it, laying up there on that limb like the Serpent himself! More subtle than any creature my left hind leg! I managed to back down the ladder, keeping an ever watchful eye on the snake, hearing Mama laughing and saying what a little old snake that is, "Probably up there after the birds. Where's the rake, I can knock the snake out..." As if, Mama! At least I know where the no-shouldered critter is right now. "Well, Sugar, I'll take care of that little old snake for you..."

Nooo Mama. Let me just move the ladder and we'll leave the snake alone. And since SHE can hardly do anything for laughing, I go to the other side of the tree with the ladder, finding another area as equally yielding of the perfect fruit, leaving the snake and the Mama to their amused selves. When I pick all the way around to the limb the snake was on, it had already slithered somewhere unknown.  It's a good time to leave.

The morning's harvest yields eight pints of fig preserves and a batch of strawberry figs. Mama is happy and all of Greene County knows I've been bested by a rat snake. You know, I MAY just be favorite child one more  time....


  1. Oh my gosh....its bad enough you got snake stories of them on the ground, now you got'em in the TREES,,,,oh my gosh oh my gosh,,,what a story...

  2. I hope you always have a story for us, Sweet Lady. I can read them aloud to my husband and, since we can identify with so many parts of your atories, we enjoy them together. Usually, thery remind us of something in our own lives that we relive and enjoy. Never stop writing your stories, please. They're wonderful!

  3. I wish I could have been there to take your picture when you saw that snake!! lol Love ya!

  4. Mary, this is your best story yet! I am now convinced that when it comes to snakes, you and I are a kindred spirit. I admire your strong courage for being able to get close enough to the "no-shouldered critter" to take his picture. Did you read my note on our Mount Vernon trip???

  5. Fig preserves are the best. My Greene County aunt made the best. I drool thinking of them - on her big hot buttered biscuits. Oh, my.

  6. Your Mama is incredible! And your story mirrors many daughters in the South. Your story prompted me to put my Mom's picture on my page. We have many memories about my Mother that we all now share at family gatherings. Bittersweet. Although we would do just about anything for one more visit with her, we cherish these memories of humorous, poignant times with her. I always say that even now she's still teaching us, and it's true. Keep going, Lady. WE love your stories.