My mother saved a filbert nut for me to carry into the 21st century. There were no diamond rings or fur coats to pass down. No 18-karat gold watches or crystal wine glasses.
“It’s a triple,” my mother said the day that she presented it to me, turning it back and forth in the filtered light of her bedroom window, exposing its three plump pockets as if she were a fine jeweler examining a precious stone.
“Do you want it?”
I hesitated, knowing its value. Ever since I could remember, that nut had rested inside an antique porcelain dish on top of my mother’s nightstand. I found my fingers traveling straight to its side, stretching slowly to touch its smooth hazelnut shell, its bumpy beige cap. But I withdrew my hand quickly, insisting that the filbert go to my older sister, its rightful heir. My mother replied so firmly and decisively that no argument would sway her.
“I want you to have it. You are the one who needs it most.”
So on that day, on a date I do not remember, I stood on the red carpet of my parents’ bedroom and silently agreed to carry the filbert nut forward with me.
“You know the story, don’t you?” The tone of my mother’s voice suggested an immediate retelling.
I listened to the familiar tale of a small package that had arrived from Sicily in 1925. A postman in uniform left it at the doorstep of my grandparents’ house on the north side of Syracuse, where my 32-year-old grandmother had just given birth to her third child and only daughter. The filbert was nestled inside a plain package with other assorted baby gifts—an embroidered bonnet, a needlepoint table piece.
“A triple filbert from our backyard for you, cara mia,” the note might have read if my great-grandmother could write. But I suspect that no words were needed to accompany the raw gift, which my grandmother dubbed the “pope’s cap” because of its triple-pointed form and inherent good luck. My grandmother did not need a description to explain the exact spot in the small backyard where it had fallen. She probably could close her eyes and see the tree branches stretched against Mt. Etna in the distance, and almost smell the cold lava rock in the warm Mediterranean breeze.
The filbert stayed close to my grandmother for nearly 40 years, nestled inside a small dish on top of her bedroom dresser, moving only twice. In 1928, in the glory days—even for an immigrant baker’s family—the filbert moved to East Brighton Street where the brand new house on the edge of town was filled with handmade ceramic tiles and hardwood floors finished by my grandfather’s hands. By 1935, the foreclosure moved all of their belongings two long blocks to Thurber Street where the sturdy house had stucco walls, their final destination.
Still my grandmother knew the luck of the filbert. By 1945 her two Navy-uniformed sons had returned from World War II, uninjured and smiling. She saw six grandchildren born in the Baby Boom years and watched them grow into healthy teachers, musicians, and hippies. Into her 70s, she was a master gardener who adorned her half-acre yard with an abundance of roses and lilies, oversized tomatoes, and impossible fruit trees—plums, peaches, apples, pears, and even a fig tree that bore fruit in spite of the inhospitable central New York winters. There was never any talk of planting a filbert tree to remind her of the home she would not see again.
“If I don’t go back, they are all still there,” she’d say with a wistful shrug and a half smile.
My grandmother gave the filbert nut to my mother for good luck in the early 1960s when my parents moved away to raise a young family of their own. My mother kept it hidden, but close, inside a covered, heart-shaped dish with painted roses. I saw her rub it once, like a rabbit’s foot, after her first cancer surgery. I don’t know what my mother imagined in her mind’s eye when she touched it that day, maybe just my grandmother’s face, maybe the lilt of Italian in the air, maybe the smell of eggplant and braciole on familiar Sundays past. Maybe she just felt its rippling surface and wondered what it held inside, knowing she would never look. That was 1974. Today, at 86, my mother’s luck endures.
I have held the filbert nut many times over the twenty-five years that it has been in my possession, fingering the three rounded compartments that house the precious nut meats. Shaking it, hearing it rattle, believing that its contents are still intact. Wondering if inside there were three, separate, fully formed pieces as the shell suggests, or if one had shriveled up and died or another had never materialized at all. Or if maybe, underneath, they were all joined together. I refuse to go on the Internet and learn more about it.
It is enough to carry the filbert nut into this new millennium, whole. I plan to keep it for a while. When I do pass it down to my daughter I will tell her, again, of how her great-great-grandmother saw a triple filbert nut in her own backyard and took the time to notice it, to pick it up, to share its unusual beauty. I will assure my only child that yes, when she has a family of her own, she can have the triple filbert that sits inside a heart-shaped, cut-glass container on top of my bedroom dresser. All she needs to promise is never to crack it open and to remember where it came from.
This piece was originally published in Monadnock Ledger magazine.
Tina Rapp is a writer, editor and content producer who lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Her work has appeared in various venues including New Hampshire Public Radio; Yankee Magazine’s Vinegar, Duct Tape, Milk Jugs and More; The Wall Street Journal (Student Edition); Concrete Wolf; Post Magazine; TV Technology; Millimeter; and National Business Employment Weekly.