The Lean-to and the Snake

(Written as a memoir prompt practicing with the senses)

In Phoenix, 1957, Mom gave birth to me, her first child, at 4:01 on a Thursday afternoon, at the Phoenix Osteopathic Hospital. A few years after that, my folks bought their first house out in the stark desert area, playfully called Paradise Valley. I remember all the times when, in between working two jobs, Dad took me for walks in the desert, probably to give Mom a much needed break, since by then, she also had my toddler sister, Callie, and baby sister, Gracie.

Dad and I roamed (miles and miles to my six-year old mind) about a quarter mile into the desert. He showed me how to build a lean-to shelter for protection from the hot sun. We collected dead, long, silvery-white colored, acacia tree branches, and Dad let me help him construct an A-frame lean-to, while enjoying the smell of the flowers blossoming on the desert plant life. When we finished our shelter, we’d spend hours underneath the shade (to my six-year old mind, but was probably only an hour at the most). Dad told stories about when he was a kid in North Dakota on a farm or when he was in the Navy and met Mom. He even let me tell him stories that I dreamed up, experimenting with a young but vivid imagination.

Once in a while, we’d bring my sister, Callie, when she was about four years old. While bees buzzed around tree flowers, and desert cicadas rattled and rustled their singing drone sounds, Dad told us Bible stories and sang church songs to us with his soft, shy, deep voice. I loved the one about the little flowers that open and the little birds that sing (he sang that one, too, at night before we fell asleep). We ate snacks and collected more branches to do any mending on the lean-to, if the wind had messed with it. Sometimes, Dad helped us look for ancient Apache arrowheads, but we never found any.

One time, when I was almost seven years old, Dad, Callie and I walked back home, stirring up the desert sand and feeling the breezes touch our hot skin after it blew through the scrub bushes and desert trees. We came upon two teenagers, wearing cowboy hats, riding brown horses single file (I noticed things like that because Roy Rogers was my hero). They carried a very long, dark rope stretched loosely between them. Except, it wasn’t a rope! Dad got real excited and started talking with the riders, who had been rattlesnake hunting. They had caught and killed the largest rattler they had ever come across!

After visiting for a few minutes, we finished walking home, talking up a storm about the horses, riders and the very long, very dead, monstrous rattlesnake. All of us had fun telling Mom and baby Gracie our versions of what we had seen that afternoon.

Today, over fifty-years later, I still think about that silvery-white, acacia lean-to in the desert, and a young father doing his best to make good memories for his little girls.1961or1962Tam1

(Me and my imitation of Roy Rogers)




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