Estival adventures came to a close last Sunday in a crescendo of violent afternoon thunderstorms. Rinsed and shaken, the collective olfactory symphony was deafening, so I snapped on a pannier and biked to school. As a steam ring rose around the bus loop, the quart jar filled with sweet cherry tomatoes.
In a former life, the boring, vacant duplexes at the end of Boulevard were filled with children. Once a neighborhood Headstart center covered with hand-painted kids, it sat derelict for years while rosemary enjoyed the absence of groundskeepers. Before contractors arrived, I dreamed of turning the building into a small neighborhood school of the arts while picking sprigs for new red potatoes.
A block away from school, a stout, sprawling fig tree’s fruit is beginning to brown. Four years ago, while cruising past a small courtyard surrounded by brick medical buildings, I noticed an elderly woman milling around with a white plastic bag. Curious, I stopped and asked what she was searching for. She lifted her cataracted gaze into branches covered with unmistakable chestnut-colored fruit.
Shaking slightly, her brown hand reached into the bag, and handed me a fig. With a smirk she recognized my hesitation and reached in for another. It’s almost as though she knew my experience was limited to the Newton variety, and undergarments for Greek statues. Without a word, she took a gentle bite as the smirk widened into a smile. I followed suit. Flavor matched the texture in the way a thunderstorm breaks the summer heat the moment it becomes unbearable. Each year since that woman shared her secret tree, the taste of figs marks the start of another school year.