Climbing the hills on the Isle of Capri in Italy on a funicular, I saw them almost everywhere. Sprouting from square patches of small backyards, this fruit tree graced the hillsides of the Italian island. In what seemed like a postage-stamp-sized growing area, these garden lovers planted vegetables, herbs, colorful flowing flowers, and lemon trees. They are the Blue Ribbon plant of these Southern boot dwellers.
Lemons abound in Southern Italy. Not only fresh ones in menus, gracing tables, and in tangy aperitifs, but on Capri and in the peninsula town of Sorrento, they decorated pottery,dinnerware, dish towels, and wrapping paper. Gift shops were filled with the heady fragrance of this citrus delight in lemon shaped soaps.
When I gazed down at these small plots of growth on the hillsides, excitement welled up inside of me. I understood why I loved digging in the garden–when the soil is agreeable. My Italian heritage was speaking to me through these green patches. I wanted to meet these gardeners and longed to have a small green patch of my own where I could make life blossom. However, I knew that when I returned to the heat of Arizona, my enthusiasm would dry up and wilt with the hot, dry climate and soil that needs a jack hammer to carve a hole for one hardy plant.
Fortunately, when we moved into our dry-climate home, we had it landscaped with desert-friendly plants such as lantana, bougainvillea, Little John Bottle Brush, and Texas rangers. Fortunately, we were able to add some rose bushes in soil prepared by the landscaper. A Sweet Arizona Orange Tree completed the landscape.
But each time I gazed upon that beautiful orange tree or went outside to feed and water it, I called it a lemon tree. After having done this numerous times in our first couple of years of living here, my mother finally said, “That’s it! I’m buying you a lemon tree.” And she did.
That lemon tree is our pride and joy. It is a full-sized Lisbon Lemon Tree which adapts well to the frosty winter mornings in the desert and the soaring summer heat. And it has produced as many as 1500 large lemons. (Hubby, the retired engineer, likes to count them.) Bags of lemons line the kitchen floor in harvesting season, ready to be juiced or given away.
The lemon tree is our pride and joy, and we delight in supplying friends, neighbors, and even food pantries with our crop. Our refrigerator crispers are filled with fresh lemons for cooking and spritzing on veggies while the freezer boasts sealed bags of juice for lemonade.
Recently I won the painting of this beckoning branch of lemons in a drawing. My dear friend, Bobbie Twydell Greiner painted this watercolor of her own lemon grove that stretches yards behind their ranch-style home. When I was the winner in her drawing, she hand-picked this painting for me, recalling the wealth of lemons stretched across our kitchen during one of her visits.
It drew me back to those Italian hillsides of Capri and the heritage into which God birthed me. Memories as warm as the sun-kissed lemons. The painting, when framed, will decorate what I am dubbing our “Italian” country kitchen.
My friend has given me a treasure–a part of herself, a piece of my heritage, and the essence of our friendship.
Three quotes come to mind.
“Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave, and impossible to forget.” G. Randolph
“A friend loves at all times…” Proverbs 17:17 NIV
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Psalm 139:13 NIV