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Jr. Tales: Olives and Lemons Make Oil and Lemonade

Rhona Lewis

Nonna — Grandma — wasn’t smiling and standing over a pot of pasta sauce spiced with oregano, and Nonno didn’t come in from the groves at six o’clock

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

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T here are over 60 million olive trees in Puglia, one tree for every person in Italy. Hold on… where is Puglia? Remember that Italy looks like a giant boot? Well, Puglia is the heel of the boot. And it’s full of olive trees. My Nonno, grandpa, says that the gnarliest tree in Puglia is more than 1,000 years old. And don’t try to argue with him because he’s one of the oldest and best olive tree farmers in Puglia. And he knows all about olive trees, olive oil, and lemonade.

Every year, we leave the crush of Paris and fly back to Papa’s childhood farmhouse to spend the summer in Puglia. My younger brother Ari would rather spend his days on the beaches of Puglia, but ask me and I’ll tell you that farm life beats the surf.

This last summer was different from every summer I can remember. Gone were the long lazy days spent in the olive groves with Nonno and the picnic lunches of homemade bread dipped in Nonno’s specialty extra virgin olive oil that is pressed on the farm. And it was all because of Xylella fastidiosa.

Things began to fall apart about six months before we got there, but Nonno hadn’t said much about it. Ari and I arrived in the late afternoon and I sensed something was wrong right away. Nonna — Grandma — wasn’t smiling and standing over a pot of pasta sauce spiced with oregano, and Nonno didn’t come in from the groves at six o’clock to squeeze freshly picked lemons and make lemonade like he did every evening.

“Where’s Nonno?” I asked Nonna.

She sighed, closed her eyes, and wiped them with the back of her hand.

I got a funny itchy feeling all over. Like I’d trodden on an ant’s nest and a million little critters were zooming over my laces and into my trouser pants.

“Where’s Nonno?”

Nonna sighed again. “With the olive trees…while they’re still growing,” she said.

“What?” I scratched at my legs.

“Benny, you didn’t hear?”


“Hear what?” The itching along my legs got worse and somehow I understood that this was connected to the whispered words between Ima and Abba that I’d been hearing for a few weeks before Ari and I left Paris.

Nonna sat down and put her head in her hands. “Go into the groves,” she said. Her voice was muffled by her hands. Or maybe by her sobs.

Ari and I raced out, past the olive press and the store houses in the trulli, little stone huts shaped like cones that are built all over Puglia, and toward the groves. When we got to the edge of the groves, I stopped. I punched Nonno’s number into my cell phone. No answer. I looked around for Ari. He was perched high in one of the olive trees. He shimmied down even faster than he had climbed up.

“Over there,” he said. “At the far edge of this grove. There’s a whole group of men standing around. Looks like they’re fighting about something.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 695)

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