A Sweet Birthday Memory

Christmas 2016

Dear Joan,  

Only today looking for your email address to send my usual Christmas greetings, I found that I missed reading your reply last year. So, only now I learn that Philip has passed away. I’m very, very sorry for your loss. You were a special couple, different from most of my clients, and because of this, I always remember you and your stay with great pleasure. My prays this Christmas will be for Philip.

All the best, Joan, and warmest regards,


This email arrived in my inbox on Christmas morning 2016.  It was from the host of the inn above Santa Margherita, Italy. Philip and I stayed there for a week in the summer of 2011. We loved Roberto–warm, funny, intelligent, and generous.

Philip was a terrible traveler whose romantic ideals were nearly impossible to satisfy. But he was happy at Roberto’s inn. No complaints, no grousing. Ahhh … peace. Our room was comfortable and quaint. The inn was poised above the bustle of Santa Margherita, and the turquoise sea below glittered in the Italian sun.  

View of Santa Margherita and the sea from Roberto’s inn

And if that wasn’t enough, there were ancient fig trees … and … it was fig season.  Luscious ripe fruit dropped from the trees. Philip was in heaven.

Hugging trees wherever he went

Our days were sweet with figs. We kissed with figs. We re-enacted one of D.H. Lawrence’s most sensuous scenes from—was it Women in Love? –when a fig is delicately pulled apart, its pink flesh compared to a woman’s most private part.  

However, picking up fallen treasures from the ground was not enough for Philip.  So, I found myself standing beneath a 100-year-old tree anxiously looking up as Philip clambered from branch to branch to reach the top. This was where–he predicted–the best sun-ripened fruits would be. At 64, climbing trees was still in Philip’s repertoire, especially when motivated by fruit. All over Europe and England, I stood like this as he happily scaled the branches of trees and trellises reaching for stolen cherries, apples, peaches, and plums.

We had a pretty good idea this was something Roberto would not encourage. Insurance might not cover guests falling from trees. Hence, we waited for when we hoped he’d be occupied. Philip rustled, figs fell all around me, and I whispered up to him to hurry. I imagined the local headline reading, “Guest falls from 100-year-old fig tree but dies fully sated.” Humming, laughing, and undoubtedly eating his way to the top, he was drunk on figs. Hissing at him to come down was pointless.

And then, much to my chagrin, along came Roberto with a newly arrived family.  Greeting me, they stopped to talk under the shade of the venerable tree. I’d just had time to warn Philip to be quiet, but his foot slipped, causing a rain of figs to cover all of us. 

When Roberto, looked up to see Philip peering down, he shouted, “You crazy guy.  Get down from there!”  

Philip climbed down, shirt stained, pockets bulging. Leaping gracefully from the lowest branch, he alighted–face fig-smeared and sheepish.  Roberto, shaking his head, quickly moved the family along. 

Later in the day, our kind host arrived at our door with a large bowl full of figs and said, “Senior Heiman, I bring these to you, please.”

                My guess is Roberto keeps this memory in his collection of crazy-guest-tales. I certainly keep it in my heart and was delighted to find it popping up as his birthday comes around again.  Hard to imagine, he’d have been 74 today–November 19. Happy Birthday, Love.

10 years and a lifetime since Santa Margherita and Philip in figgy-Heaven, Roberto and I still exchange Christmas greetings. Each year, his holiday message brings the sweet sorrow of joy and absence. As time passes (6+ hard-to-fathom years since Philip’s death), pain softens, memories soothe, tears bring smiles, and longings continue to kindle love.

10 thoughts on “A Sweet Birthday Memory

  1. Joan,
    Tears streaming as I write these words of gratitude. This is by far one of your most touching writings. Helps me with my memories too … as do all of your stories snd insights. 💗

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for always being wholehearted, for being present to all the love and beauty and suffering that make you the beautiful human being you are.


  3. Message: Fig encourages us to look for new openings in life and to consciously co-create for the greater good. This is a time of increased creative energy and success. It may signal new beginnings in; relationships, career, marriage or even pregnancy. Now is a time to actively engage in restoring our health, our home and our environment. Look for partnerships or groups that bring harmony and inspiration that fuel the creative spirit and feed the mind, body and soul. Artistic pursuits are highly encouraged. Happy Birthday Phillip.


  4. In Buddhism, the bodhi tree is a sacred fig tree under which the Buddha is believed to attain awakening. The Fig tree is one of the oldest known trees. As a Symbol Of Wisdom and Knowledge.


  5. Seems so appropriate (wisdom and knowledge) and touching, that you have these rare, few pictures of Phillip in a Bodhi(fig) tree.


  6. What a beautiful, heartwarming story. I always delight in these and in getting to know your beloved Philip better. My heart to you.


  7. Joan,

    Such a wonderful memory bursting with Joy and Love. Thank you for sharing. You put a permanent smile on my face.

    Love, R

    Sent from my iPad



  8. Hello Joan, I’ve been meaning to write ever since I heard from you and then after your post of 11/19 — a memory of Philip among the figs. Quite beautiful, I thought.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s