Not long after becoming acquainted with Jimmy’s family John’s family next door to them moved away. The house was vacant for a time. One day Jimmy asked me to come along with him, his mother and younger brothers to visit with John. Apparently John’s family had bought a brand new house. Our neighborhood was that of very simple tract homes that appeared to have been built in the early fifties. John’s new home was sixties style, fancier and brand new. The tract of homes was even built on a hill and not on flat land. He lived at the end of a curving cul-de-sac. The home was so new that the land around it was dirt. There was no landscaping yet. We were taken on a tour of the new, fancy house.
This was only the second time in my life I ever saw the younger John. I remembered how cruelly Jimmy had treated him at the last meeting. Much to my surprise Jimmy now treated John with the utmost respect and friendliness. Something had suddenly changed. He seemed to treat me with disdain as if since we had been seeing each other regularly the familiarity had turned to disrespect and contempt. Very quickly he and John disappeared around a corner leaving me alone, alone outside a brand new house that seemed barren with no landscaping. All I could do was wait patiently until Jimmy’s family decided to leave. I wasn’t in a good humor on the drive back. I was quiet. I couldn’t wait until we arrived so I could walk back home.
Our yard was not perfect. It wasn’t like the Miller’s who were a retired couple across the street whose lawn was perfectly green and always cut and trimmed perfectly with its perfect flower beds. It was weedless all the time. Our lawn was not dry but was never completely green. There were always some weeds that needed to be pulled. At some point my father taught all of his three sons to care for the yard but left it up to us to do so. There was no pressure. I think I took up most of the responsibility myself but try as I might I could never make the yard look perfect. I watered in the evening, pulled weeds, mowed and edged the lawn and swept the walks. My father collected a lot of nice rocks and cemented them at intervals on top of the low wall that bordered our yard. Ours was a corner house and even though the corner of our front yard was rounded and not a sharp corner the neighborhood boys would cut across our yard for a shortcut. Sometimes some of them would push and pull on the rocks until they pulled them out. They seemed to want to do these things as a sign of disrespect and rebellion against authority. I had no idea why. I finally had to confront some of these boys and tell them they couldn’t do that. They would want to argue and say, “Why not?” but I got them to stop. I even got them to stop taking short cuts across our yard.
Try as I might our yard was never perfect. However we had a very tall mulberry tree in our front yard that gave an abundance of fruit every summer. Lots of neighborhood kids would be in our yard uninvited picking fruit including children we didn’t even know. Eventually there was even a grown Mexican woman who we didn’t know picking fruit with the children. My mother who was raised on a farm in Ohio knew how to bake pies from scratch and she would bake us delicious mulberry pies every summer. There was always a smaller, immature mulberry tree on the other side of the front driveway that as yet did not bear fruit. It was not planted by design but it looked very beautiful and perfect where it was at. It was obviously a child of the mother tree. Between the front sidewalk and the curb grew a Palo Verde tree. This type of tree was native to the Arizona-Sonora desert. It had a slender trunk and limbs with smooth, green bark. The branches hung down with leaves that were thin strands with tiny green, pointed ovals along each strand. This gave the leaves a feathery look. At times the tree, also, had tiny, yellow flowers. People who were driving by would stop their cars in front and tell me that the tree was beautiful. Another of these trees had begun to grow several feet away.
We had some bushes along the front wall of the house that had small, dark green, waxy leaves. They grew up to the roof of the house and had a low arch between them. We called them bird berry bushes because they grew berries that looked exactly like tiny apples that the birds loved to eat. They were bright red on the outside, white inside and had tiny black seeds just like tiny apples. We ate them ourselves sometimes. Sometimes we’d watch the birds go crazy eating them. My father later told me that the bird berries made the birds drunk. That’s why they loved them so much.
We, also, had two plum trees on the other side of the yard past the car port. They grew right up next to the backyard fence. These small, dark, purple and green trees gave fruit every summer. In the same area was a small palm tree that was only a few feet high and the pond, a small concrete pond that my father had made. It was bordered by large rocks that were good for sitting on. The pond was only filled when one of my brothers or I filled it with a garden hose. After the two rainy seasons in Tucson we would bring tadpoles from the desert in jars to put tadpoles in the pond. The cats would come and lick some of them up from the pond to eat them. We watched the ones that were left grow hind legs and front legs. Then they would lose their tails. Eventually they became little frogs hopping around the pond until they got bigger and hopped away.
And these were the treasures of the front yard! In back there was a patio where on summer days we would eat breakfast outdoors since it was already seventy degrees even early in the morning. We would eat cereal and cantaloupe. There was another fruitless mulberry tree that was a good climbing tree. Here is where we built a tree house in it of scrap wood. The mulberry tree, instead of growing fruit, grew yellow flowers. My mother just called it a fruitless tree. Later in life when I thought back on this it became obvious to me it was the male tree that pollinated the fruit bearing mulberry tree in the front yard. There was a lawn there and next to the redwood slat, back yard fence was the clothes line where my mother hung clothes to dry and sometimes lots of diapers. I often helped my mother with the laundry. We had an old fashioned, washing machine in the back yard with a wringer to wring the excess water out of the clothes. I loved to run through the lines of cotton diapers on the clothes lines when they got dry because of the fresh smell.
Next to the wall of the house in the flower beds was a peach tree. The mother of this peach tree was in a small patch of dry lawn on the other side of the patio. Every summer the peach trees were heavily laden with fruit. The younger peach tree was once so heavily laden with fruit that one of its branches broke from the weight. My mother would make us peach pie, peach cobbler and peaches with whipped cream for dessert. She made the whipped cream from scratch. We often had peach slices with our cereal in the morning.
Then there was the weeping willow tree on the other side of the back yard driveway. The entrance to the driveway had tall, wooden gates that my father built into the redwood slat fence that encircled the back yard. The tree grew from a square made of low, red brick walls. Its gnarled roots filled the earth inside the brick enclosure. Its long, thin branches hung down low over the roots with its long, green leaves. In the spring it was not good to be under the tree’s branches because the caterpillars would be spitting out green junk that would fall on us. Later came the beautiful butterflies as they emerged from the cocoons that the caterpillars had retreated to after having their fill of eating weeping willow leaves. For a short time butterflies covered the hanging branches before flying away. Then there was the summer when the tree would achieve its full, lush greenery and glory. It was nice and cool in the shade behind the green curtains of the weeping willow tree branches. I felt a sense of peace hiding in there on hot summer days.
In the back yard behind the weeping willow tree was a fallow area of dirt. At times we grew watermelon there, potatoes and carrots. My mother gave me packages of seeds and my father taught me how to grow things. We were able to grow some corn but the stocks of corn did not get really high like on my grandfather’s farm in Ohio. We tried to grow sunflowers and were successful but the birds ate all the sunflower seeds. The birds went crazy eating the seeds from the big, yellow flowers. At times it was hard for us to even get close to the plants because of the crazed birds.
We had a kid goat for awhile as a pet and then a desert tortoise. My sisters were afraid of the goat so my father sold it back to the feed store he had bought it from. The tortoise kept digging under the fence to escape out to the desert. He finally got too much of a head start on us so we couldn’t find him. Then we got a little dog and this patch of dirt became his potty area.
The weeping willow tree was not a great tree for climbing. It was not like the huge mulberry tree in the front yard. The mulberry tree had thick branches that separated at a low level on the trunk. It was easy to climb and there was a place high above from which I could look down on the world below. I could even look down on the roof of the house. It was a natural place where branches cradled me. I could recline there. It was a place I would go to when the noise of my brothers and sisters became too much for me. When I got upset I would climb up to my high spot in the tree to think and have peace of mind. It was a place where my imagination was set free from the troubles of life.