life stories: white bloomers and mesquite

Springtime in the desert was hot. So very hot.

A wave of warmth each February tricked us into pulling last year’s t-shirts from plastic bins and we all talked of swimming. There was always a snap, the last hurrah of the winter wind, the weeks we were most likely to see snow. But spring – real spring – arrived early in April, and with it came a crisp breeze, an almost-beating sun and the creeping of temperature gauges toward 100 degrees.

My brother and I tore out the door during those in-between weeks, when it was hot but not sweltering. We built houses between spears of yucca plants and tall Joshua trees. Using California’s own hula hoe, we banished weeds and created hallways and rooms in the hard packed dirt.

(Did you know if you Google “hula hoe,” my tiny hometown shows up on the first page of results? We must have cornered the market.)

We fancied ourselves botanists during the gardening season, Zachary and I, setting up shop with boards nailed in the juniper branches, selling sprigs of unknown foliage and attempting to cure wounds with mud. We mashed yellow berries and flowers in a Mason jar, added a scrap of white fabric and filled it with water. We screwed the lid on tight, set our dye in the sunshine, waited a few weeks. The fabric was white, still, when we pulled it out, but our fermented concoction would likely have cured any backyard ailment.


Our brows trickled sweat in the spring and my headaches returned every May, but those were the laughter days. I learned to climb trees in a dress then, handmade white bloomers peeking from beneath my blue jumper if its hem caught on a branch. Zachary wore buckskins every day, a wooden musket slung across his back and a coonskin cap atop his milk-chocolate hair.

Math books could wait on the kitchen table, science experiments would be finished in the evening. The spring days were running away from us, we couldn’t catch them, and we had bicycles to ride. We lived high in our mesquite tree, carving our names in the branches, telling each other stories.

Spring in Virginia is unsure of itself, ordering us to wear sweaters in the morning and shed them by noon. The heat will be here in a few weeks, the humidity suffocating and the thunderstorms exhilarating.

My boys swing wide the front door at four in the afternoon, drop backpacks with a thud and slam the backdoor. They flip and toss on the trampoline for an hour, climb a tree and find me when they fall. Then they ask to play the Wii or to watch Power Rangers and they want to dress up like Obi Wan Kenobi.

I think of buckskin pants and fermented yellow dye, read pieces like this one and make five second plans to homeschool in the fall.

The desert was beautiful in the springtime.

Exercising my simple storytelling muscles. Are you writing your stories?

8 Responses to life stories: white bloomers and mesquite

  1. Wendi May 15, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    These are the memories and stories that make us who we are!!!! Love this!!!

  2. Nicole May 15, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    I remember your botany shop! Pretty sure I had desert flora in mason jars, too, over at my house. Something about canning Joshua tree fruit…

    Thank you for sharing your stories, Ash. You are inspiring me to share mine. Finding my voice again after a very long silence.

    There were good times in our childhoods, weren’t there? Hard to remember them sometimes. The anger, the pain, the sense of betrayal, they try to blot out everything that was happy and sweet. But the good memories shouldn’t be forgotten. Thanks for reminding me. :)

  3. Christine Fuller May 15, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    I think of you when we go down south to your little corner of the desert. We’re going this weekend, in fact. It was a wonderful place to play as a child. I hope your children will have as many fond memories of Virginia as you do of California.

  4. Sarah Askins: Poet-Writer May 15, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    Oh, I love this! I know the Virginia Springs so well…having grown up there, and they are strangely similar to my North Carolina Springs. Just as crazy.

  5. Linds May 15, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    My sister and I grew up in the heat of South African summers, where you never wore shoes, once you got out of school, playing tennis in the driveway, making houses out of umbrellas with towels pegged to them, running, running. It was a beautiful time.

  6. Tina Blankenship May 15, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    I enjoyed your simple story. I made me recall playing “house” with my sister beneath the spreading arms of dwarf plum tree. It’s fruit was part of our “mud pie recipe”. We loved that tree…except for Spring when the tree bloomed. The bee’s invaded and chased us away until the blossoms faded and dropped.

  7. Heather May 15, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    I’ve been reading for a while (because I love the stories!), but I’m not much for commenting. But I had to laugh about climbing trees in dresses and wearing white, homemade bloomers because, oh, that was my life! My sister tore every dress she owned running through barbed wire fences on hot Texas afternoons and why didn’t my mother cave and buy a pair of jeans for us? First thing I ever sewed (0ther than pillow-case bags and maybe a strange apron) was bloomers. Mostly, though, I mended torn dresses. :) (Also I would like to destroy every jumper-wearing photograph… what was it with homeschooling moms and denim in the 90s????

  8. Esther May 15, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    We homeschool, but have still not figured out how to shove them all out the door when the birds start singing again (a Minnesotan sign of Spring). We are still plagued with requests for Wii, Hulu, or LegoClub. I think it takes more work, and intention to get kids back to secret concoctions and hidden clubs. Those are the messes I don’t mind though.

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