Happy 100th Birthday (in memoriam), Mom! Go FIGure!

We were all there, the twelve surviving offspring and several “outlaws” of Annie Jeter LaCour Comeaux, at sister Chris’s and brother-in-law David’s house in Richmond, TX, in honor of what would have been Mom’s 100th birthday, earlier this month. The cake with white icing was inscribed by the phrase we most often heard from Mom: “We love you and we are proud of you!”

Those who can make it gather annually, but this significant year was a virtual command performance, and the northern and western tributaries of the family braved what might have been challenging weather, but was the opposite, a blessing for us all. And several of us were wearing a unique memorial item in tribute, which had emerged from another “youreallyhadtobethere” incident.

With a span of twenty-two years between my older and youngest brothers, few collective experiences galvanize reunion memories. The most “iconic” is the image described in a previous post of Mom returning home in the station wagon filled with forty-eight dozen donuts – witnessed by eleven of us, but appreciated by the thirteenth when he found relics years later in the bottom of the deep freeze, “and they still tasted good!” The new family icon salutes one of Mom’s favorite delicacies and its source on the family farm, the FIG TREE.

Significant family experiences involve THE tree, one of many biblical references to the tree, and an ongoing, wearable family reminder of THE tree. A reminder from brother Bob had most of the men at the birthday celebration wearing their FIG memorial.

The Tree. About halfway down the trail between Grandma’s farm house and my Uncle’s house, about thirty yards from either, stood “THE fig tree.” I’m now guessing fifteen feet high, with a twenty-three feet girth.

Momma loved figs, and fig preserves. Some of us liked figs; none of us liked fig preserves. One of our chores, passed down throught the years, was to pick the figs on our annual summer visits to the farm. I remember enjoying the fresh taste of the better ones, right in the tree, unless I had failed to notice the outer half had been already sampled by some bird, and in later years recalled the soft-skinned similarity to the hard-skinned kiwi.

Younger siblings recall more sporty adventures up the tree.

The Uncle’s family expanded to six children, covering approximately the middle of our baker’s dozen. My older brother and I were completely innocent, but the youngers reveled in pelting the cousins on their walk down the trail to Grandma’s house. With sufficient cover in the higher reaches of the tree, the pelters were unseen, and the younger cousins would be baffled and have witnesses but no identifiable suspects. I report this from hearsay; maybe someday more details will emerge. The statute of limitations has expired, maybe I’ll eventually hear from the victims.

The Biblical Reference. Thirty-two years after my wedding, family members who could make it returned for a second Massachusetts wedding. My brother Bill, sibling number eight, had artfully dodged matrimony until his forty-fourth year. Trish was a graduate student at University of Texas, and Bill was either still there or teaching in a school for the deaf, when they met. (Bill was one of several family humanitarians, who at a young age was sleepwalking and answered Momma’s challenge, “What are you doing?,” with “I’m going to feed the poor.”)

My Father was unable to travel, but my Mother, in her eightieth year, would not defer. When I picked her up at the airport, and she was walking deeply bent over (as I am now, on emerging from any chair), I was worried about her stamina. Then when she said she was doing a reading at the wedding, I thought – this will be embarrassing, she’ll be following some thirty- and forty-somethings.

The Quaker ceremony was sunny, sandwiched between drizzles, very scenic in Trish’s family’s property in almost-Vermont Colrain, MA, outside an antique bathroom-less house (near a modern one) off a challenging hilly dirt road. There were no microphones, and the first couple of readings did not carry clearly. When the dreaded moment approached, I hoped Mom might carry it off.

She overachieved: Mom’s voice rang out bold, even boisterous, and a full quarter of the attendees burst out with a laughing roar at the magic word, when she read from Luke (21: 29-31): “Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Think of the FIG tree and all the other trees. When you see their leaves beginning to appear, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, you will know that the Kingdom of God is about to come.”

Dread morphed into pride. Her first job as a teacher, then a Mother with twenty-eight consecutive years with a teenager in the house, plus membership in a Minerva Society with an annual hosting and presentation responsibility, must have brought out the oomph in her. Her oratory skills exceeded everyone’s imagination. You go, Momma!

The Wearable Reminder. Among siblings we celebrate the big SEVEN-OH!? in a big way, and the occasion of my oldest sister’s celebration became the trigger for the FIG to advance from “almost” to “ceritified” iconic status. I was about to take credit, but realized I need to share the credit with Maureen Y., me as originator, she as the perfector (or perfectress). The impetus was an accidental, goofish instinct, which led to a total, full circle huzzah moment.

My brother Mike engineered the birthday celebration from his home between Galveston and Houston. Gathering, bird watching, dining, harbor tour, dining, and separate men’s and women’s rooster/hen parties (featuring make-your-own pizza lunches managed by sister Chris and son-in-law David), then more dining, surrounded the actual Happy Birthday cake.

The unannounced icing on the cake was where my/our contribution came into play, again, a total quirk.

I was trolling the “end of season, end of style, never to be seen again” shelves at Kohl’s, remembering Maureen Y. had been trying to nudge me off bleary blues and grays and into some color in my wardrobe, and I came upon a couple of more colorful polo shirts. One of the tags said “Color: FIG” – an instant impulse purchase, marked down to $9 or $10. Afterwards, the thought emerged, wouldn’t it be great if I could find one for my seven brothers, followed by, what about the four brothers-in-law. Maureen Y. challenged my sanity, but, after contacting Mike, as un-clued-in co-conspirator, for an estimate of current sizes required and finding a few qualifiers at other Kohl’s and Bob’s stores, she joined in the quest, quickly locating several in the process. The final items were found with google searches and paying full price for a few of the XXL’s when I had run out of other options.

Two dilemma’s emerged, and I was only aware of one. Reminded that it was Libby’s birthday, I responded that I had bought a shirt for her twenty-something mountain-man of a son, another of the XL or XXL’s, so she would have some participation in the figging.

Then the full-circling of the wagons. Maureen Y., challenging: “it’s your sister’s birthday,” asked what about the women? My response was, I had googled for women’s clothing in fig color, came up only with sweaters, which were out of season at the beginning of the search and would be too expensive, and didn’t show up again the next time I googled. So just the guys get the nostalgia celebration? Sorry, best I could do. She said what about this, and showed me a tube of Bert’s Bees lip balm, color FIG! Shazam! Easy to find (not quite so) and priced right! Thereupon a quest through every CVS, Walgreen’s, and Rite Aid between home and Plymouth to come up with a dozen FIG lip balms. Sometimes the rack held zero, sometimes one, the high-water mark was three or four, but we completed the search without resorting to google. And the circle was unbroken.

The presentation was something else. The delivery was sporadic – older brother had a pre-scheduled cruise but was up north for Patriots/Texans game, he and his wife received theirs and were sworn to secrecy. At the gathering, no hint given as to why, someone was leaving early and I gave the package and told the couple to FIGure it out. One or two had to be mailed to non-attendees with another FIGure it out (not highlighting FIG) challenge. At a large dinner on the Galveston wharf after the harbor cruise, the majority were delivered, both items in one package, with the challenge to identify the family significance. After an extended time frame, which slipped from appreciative thank-yous to building frustration, we finally yielded with a hint – read the tags. Still no solution appeared until Sister-in-Law Jo Anne, who was not one of the earlier family farm lore participants, reading her lip balm, said, “All it says is – FIG! F! I! G!” And the light dawned on all the marbled heads.

PostScript: Another small ‘fig” figure incident occurred as we gathered for Mom’s funeral seven years earlier. Mom had blessed several grandchildren with sewing lessons, and sisters Cecilia and Jeremi had created a tee shirt to save Mom lots of explanations: a yellow shirt with numbers to Velcro attach and fill in the blanks to the statement: “I have ____ grandchildren and ____ great grandchildren. Her oldest son, an accountant, saw the shirt with the numbers 34 and 46 and instantly computed: 13 children, 34 grandchildren, and 46 great grandchildren – the total is 93, Mom’s age that day. Go FIGure!

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