At the end of 2007, I lost my 91 year old Nonno (grandfather). Eight months later, I lost a close friend at age 29. Just over a year later, I lost my mother’s youngest sister who was in her late 40’s. A month passed and a cousin who was only 35, went on as well. Another month later, my father took his final breath and six months from that date my uncle laid his head to rest; both were 60.
Between my father and uncle passing, I moved into a new home with a large yard. As the spring arrived, the yard began to show its true colors. Through all the over grown grass, weeds taller than bushes and wild plants thicker than baseball bats, I found some amazing things blossoming.
My Nonno made wine every year and that final year he taught my cousin, who is his name sake, how to make wine. I have grape vines taking over four of my evergreen trees in a corner of my yard.
My close friend’s favorite fruit was berries. She loved them so much she had her kitchen decorated in berries, her stationary had berry designs, her cat’s name was Berry, her favorite color was wild berry; you get the point. I have a mulberry tree in my yard that hangs over the walkway from front to back of my yard.
When I was little, my grandparents had strawberries in their garden. My aunt, my mother’s youngest sister, taught me about when a strawberry was ripe enough to pick, how to pick them as to not damage the plant and of course how to wash them to eat; the memory is so vivid I can remember what I was wearing. I have wild strawberry patches lining my fence on all three sides; there are so many from a distance it appears as a red ribbon.
My cousin worked at several bars. At a specifically difficult time in my life, another cousin of mine and I were frequenting the bar our cousin managed. My cousin drinks Woodchuck, which is a cider made from a certain pear. I would ask her why she liked that beverage and our cousin answered that it was her way of staying healthy, her excuse to drink. He handed me a long island and we laughed. I have two of those certain pear tree’s in my yard.
A few years ago, my mother went to Italy and brought home a fig tree. This spring she asked if she could plant the tree in my yard because it was getting too large for her to bury every year in order to protect it from Chicago winters. I asked why she did not just move it to a different location in her yard, but she insisted it be planted in my yard. As she was planting the tree, she asked if I knew that the fig tree was known as the "tree of life." While I asked how long until I could eat an Italian fig, I responded that I had heard but was not sure of the origin. A few weeks later, I found a bookmark in my father’s Bible at the story of Adam and Eve who covered themselves with fig leaves. The leaves on my fig tree, which is not even a few years mature, are the size of a paper plate.
When I was in grammar school, I would visit my uncle on the farm they owned in Peotone, IL. I remember the lights on the evergreen trees as we entered the long dirt road into their farm, the only Christmas I visited them . I always thought the trees were beautiful. The very end of my driveway, leading up to my home/garage, has an evergreen that is at least 25 feet tall and someone was kind enough to put up lights.
Most recently, when I was having an emotional day trying to grieve the losses, I began to think about after life. When I realized that I was in the midst of so many signs that my family is still here with me, I had no choice but to smile and cry at the same time. I have an amazing gift, a memorial garden – the place where I can be in the presence of my family and feel a sense of comfort reliving the memories.