The Fig Tree


Mrs. Farley was an old woman who lived alone in the house directly across the street from my family when I was growing up in South Los Angeles. She was blind and in a wheelchair. My mother would make me go over there to keep her company. I didn’t like it. The curtains were drawn, it was dark and it smelled funny. I was about 7 or 8 years old.

Mrs. Farley had a huge fig tree in her back yard. When the tree was heavy and the figs would begin to drop, I’d gather them up off the ground. My mother would make jars and jars of fig preserves that lasted us for months.

Mrs. Farley was a very sweet and gentle lady and, although I didn’t want to go over there, there was something about her I liked. Her husband had died in World War I. This was the late 1950s, which means she must have been fairly young when she became a widow. She was the first black person to buy a house on the block. My parents were the second. This was before I was born, but my mother would always mention that. It seemed important.

On a fairly recent visit to the Auto Club on Figueroa Street, I came across a huge fig tree that sits in the courtyard to the entrance. The roots were above ground, which is the way these trees generally grow, I suppose.

Mrs. Farley would usually suggest I share some raw figs with her before going home. They didn’t taste as good as the sticky-sweet preserves, but they were okay. She’d take out old photographs and tell stories. I was impatient, but polite.

Being a child, I had no perception of what it must have felt like to be a woman of a certain age living with her memories. Now, I do.

Preserve your memories.
They’re all that’s left you.

— Paul Simon, Bookends


eleanor brownn message

I had a dream last night. I guess it was kind of a nightmare. I was at a large speaking engagement. As I heard myself being introduced, I was overcome by the feeling that I didn’t have anything to say — or, at least, anything anyone in the audience would feel was important enough for them to listen to. I started to get sick to my stomach. Once again, I felt like I was not enough. It’s a feeling that has plagued me for most of my life. No amount of prayer, therapy, self-help books, or positive thinking has removed it. Maybe it’s just the path I get to walk. Or maybe one day it will heal. I have no way of knowing. I keep moving forward, anyway.

Which brings me to this blog, My Spiritual Sabbatical. For at least a couple of years, I’ve wanted to combine the writings here into a published book. But there’s so much I didn’t say as I wrote my way along the journey. Reading the entries is like trying to solve a puzzle with missing pieces. There were so many times my heart was breaking and I kept up a brave front — as much for myself, as for the reader. It was too raw, too painful to delve deeply into my heart and soul. So many times, I didn’t say all that could have been said, or reveal what could have been revealed. Sometimes it was out of fear of making myself too vulnerable. Sometimes, it was out of confusion; I was in the midst of the storm and didn’t know where I was going. There were so many tears and so much pain.

But I think there are those of you who read between the lines. I thank God for you.

After recently showing part of the manuscript to an editor for feedback, I now find myself torn between whether to do extensive rewriting to flesh things out, fix all of the grammatical errors, or leaving it the way it happened — messy, incomplete, confused, but real.

There is the illusion, too, that I must somehow resolve all of the grief and trauma of the last five years, answer unanswerable questions, and tie it up with a happily-ever-after ending for the reader. But that’s not how it is. I’m still in a transitional housing arrangement, still struggling with finances, my health is diminished since the car accident, I’m still suffering bouts of depression, and the road ahead is sometimes frightening and always uncertain. I can’t pretend otherwise. It hasn’t been all dreary, of course. Some incredible things have happened. Wonderful things. But that old feeling of “not enough” comes back to haunt me.

So… I’m moving forward with my production schedule! My goal to publish was Fall 2016. I think Thanksgiving Day would be a meaningful release date, since one of my biggest lessons over this journey was “Thank Him. Trust Him.” Living life always boils down to gratitude and faith.

My Spiritual Sabbatical is a story worth the telling, if only for myself.


Eleanor Brownn 2016

It seems as though Time is running through my fingers like a waterfall.
Yesterdays merge into Todays and Todays merge into Tomorrows.
Where did the year go?
Where did that moment go?
And where am I…Now?

Life is a series of moments.
Joyful moments.
Painful moments.
Tender moments.
One moment after another.
Like a waterfall.

Bird of Paradise

Eleanor Brownn bird of paradise

My mother’s favorite flower was the bird-of-paradise. When she remodeled the house she had some planted in the front garden. I was about 10 years old. It would have been the early 1960’s. We lived in South Los Angeles.

Part of the remodel also involved changing our house paint from white with forest green trim to an exotic shade of deep pink with a taupe undertone and white trim. It was quite unusual for the neighborhood. In fact some people thought it was downright weird.

She got rid of the white picket fence and replaced it with a black cursive wrought-iron one. She converted some of the front windows to a new style (for the times) that had a slatted design and opened with a handle that allowed you to modify the amount of air that came in, similar to the way venetian blinds allow you to modify sunlight.

She was in her sixties, the age I am now. She and her husband had bought the house when she was in her fifties and adopted me at birth a few months later.

Whenever I see a bird-of-paradise, I think of my mother.