Memories of Papa and Noni’s backyard and my childhood are inseparable. Their backyard was a place where my brothers and sisters and I played and posed awkwardly for family photographs. Noni had a vegetable garden where she tended tomatoes, Italian beans and tender June lettuce. Fruit trees, flowers and vibernum snowball bushes that produced white blossoms as big as 16 inch softballs flourished there. Two evergreen trees grew at the edge of a backyard patio where in the summer our family sometimes ate meals together. I loved their piney scent.
One of the evergreen trees and the shadow of its twin in October 1967. I have no photos of the cherry tree.
Those evergreens grew so huge that some relatives worried their roots might damage the patio and foundation of the house. Papa did not. His cherry tree lived peacefully a few feet away from the giant evergreens. When I was twelve years old Papa’s cherry tree was hit by lightening which split the tree down the middle. It was the only time I recall seeing him cry. About a year after the tree was struck by lightening he died from cancer.
Since then I’ve wondered about his connection to this tree. Did it remind him of the olive and cherry trees of his childhood and youth in Mošćenička Draga? Or of Lovran’s chestnut trees? Many years later as I researched family history I read about an origin story my Papa likely knew. A very powerful Slavic god is called Perun. He is the god of the living world, sky and earth. Perun is typically depicted as an eagle living atop a sacred oak tree where he keeps watch over the world. He is also the god of lightening and thunder. Myth has it that irises grow in places where Perun’s lightening strike the earth. These irises are called Perunika or Iris Croatica—named Croatia’s National flower in 2000. During the month of May Perunika blooms on mountainsides, in gardens and near the shore. They are known as symbols of hope, bravery, wisdom and faith.