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When last we left our intrepid explorers at ther new abode of Heise Station, Uncle Ernie had just introduced the boys to his “desert dogs,” Skippy (the friendly one) and Shorty (the mean one):
“Come on, let’s go!” I said, dashing after the dogs.
“Don’t go too far. We’re eating in a little while, boys,” Mom said.
We poked around the cabins and the back of the café to see what we could see. There were a couple of old wrecked cars on one side of the building. Just those two hulks presented endless possibilities.
There were these great trees we called “tamaracks” that had a real rough bark and were easy to climb. In later years I discovered they weren’t actually tamaracks, which are a species of larch. They were actually “tamarisk” trees, also called a salt cedar. Some grew tall and straight, but others bent low to the ground. We learned to climb on the low ones, and when our bare feet toughened up, we would get up in the tall ones. Tamarisks didn’t have leaves like real leaves–they were more like soft and bendy needles and tasted real salty. Uncle Ernie told us it was the alkaline soil that made the needles salty. I believed everything my uncle told me in those days. Later on, I wondered if he really knew everything or whether he just made some things up. After all, Uncle Ernie wasn’t then even thirty years old. I guess you don’t learn everything by the time you’re thirty. Photo: Auntie Honey and Uncle Ernie with cousins Bob and Wayne.
We were up in one of the low tamarisks when I heard Mom yell, “Boys! Lunch!” We ran for the back door of the café. It was neat eating all our meals in a restaurant, really different from just a regular old house like we were used to in Detroit.
Hot off the big café grill, Uncle Ernie brought out a platter of hamburgers with fresh-cut tomatoes and lettuce. He had cooked plenty of French fries, and Auntie Honey brought out tall glasses of cold milk. We loved the plastic squirt bottles of mustard and ketchup on the tables. Boy, those were great burgers! There’s something different about the taste of food cooked on a café grill. I’ve never been able to figure out what it is, but it’s just different.
We could have hash browns and eggs every morning for breakfast, any kind of sandwich we wanted for lunch, and Uncle Ernie would make things like chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy for dinner. We usually had to have milk with every meal, but every now and then we were allowed to get a soda from the cooler. It looked like a big horizontal chest freezer but was full of water–ice cold water–and you had to slide the bottle along a metal rail till you reached the wide opening at the end where the bottle would come out, and there was a bottle opener screwed onto the end of the cooler.
(Next week the cooler will figure into a dramatic emergency—the first one I remember in the desert.)