Prompt 175. Figs at the Mount of Temptations
A prompt on transportive memories by Annie Campell
I sprung out of the hospital in time for the holidays, and I’m home with my entire family for the first time in a very long time. It’s been so lovely to be together and revisit old Christmas rituals. We always open a gift on Christmas Eve (this year: sets of handmade ceramic plates that my parents brought back from Tunisia for my brother and me) and look forward to a package from my grandmother in Switzerland (specialty cured meats and cheese for fondue, all possibly contraband per the USDA).
Our Christmas Day was simple and lovely: a walk on the towpath near the river, baking cookies while watching holiday movies, a delicious home-cooked meal. My mother gave me a beautiful Frida Kahlo puzzle, and Jon gave me some stunning silk scarves, which I can wear as head wraps when I lose my hair. My brother Adam somehow managed to outdo his present from a few years back (which I wrote about in the last newsletter). He gave me a book called “My Sister’s Keeper,” about a young girl who was conceived to be a bone marrow match for her leukemic sister, then goes on to medically emancipate herself. In case I missed the message, he also gave me a VHS version of the movie. I’m as indebted to him for agreeing to be my donor once again as I am for keeping my spirits high with his twisted sense of humor.
After a hard few weeks, it’s been wonderful to have this moment of stillness and togetherness. I hope that in the last days of this year, you’re also finding solace, whether you’re making new cherished memories or revisiting old ones, as today’s prompt, from retired teacher and Isolation Journals community member Annie Campbell, has us do. It’s so gorgeously written and not to be missed.
Wishing everyone a beautiful holiday, and sending love,
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175. I Have Been Eating Figs by Annie Campbell
I have been eating figs. Everyday. The season has been extended by Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, and I try to buy enough for a couple of days at a time. They are delicious.
My husband has been mystified by this and I try to explain how good, how sweet, how satisfying they are. He bites into a fig and shrugs. Why are they so delicious only to me? Yesterday my friend Goldie wrote about plums and grief—and as she read, my tears, unshed, lit up behind my eyes. Suddenly, I knew why the figs were so sweet.
There was a house in Jericho at the foot of the Mount of Temptations. It had been an ancient sugar mill. On the main level was a terrace shaded with bougainvillea and vined grapes. The veranda stood above terraced orange groves and date palms and had a view of the Jordan River and the Moab Hills beyond. It was small and in the open courtyard, stone steps wound up to the roof level, where there was an old spring-fed pool. “Weekend house” seems too grand a name for such a primitive spot, but that is what it was for us.
The water in the pool was cool and black. Once we went to the house in the middle of the week and shepherds were bathing their sheep in the pool. This partly explained the dark murky water. It didn’t stop us. Into the water we dove, rising to tread water while reaching for the figs from the trees that grew around the pool. There were six of us in that water. Only two of us are left to tell the story.
I read my parents' letters about the war and the fighting and the refugee camps below our house. Yes, I remember all of that. But that is not what I remember when I eat figs. I remember my family, all of us, treading water in a murky pool and reaching up to the branches heavy with fruit.
I remember the celebratory call and response: “Tean,” one of us would call out the Arabic word for fig. The rest of us would respond with "Alhamdulillah." Thanks be to God.
Your prompt for the week:
What food evokes a transporting moment of time and place? Taste the moment and write down everything you can remember.
Annie Campbell learned storytelling at the dinner table—the only time life stood still in a diplomat’s family. She took the joy she learned there into the classroom, where she taught children to be passionate about their lives as writers and readers for forty years. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, Ben. Her essays can be found at www.ourclasswrites.com.
To accommodate the vicissitudes of cancer treatment, December’s Studio Visit with Lena Dunham will be my last for the foreseeable future. In its stead, I’ll be sending out my Dear Susu column, where I answer questions about writing and life and anything in between. In the first installment, I answered a question from Jeanne, who feels the urge to write but isn’t sure how to share her words with the world. Read the column and find instructions on how to send in your questions by clicking here!