When we lived on Lankershim Avenue in Highland, California, there were quite a few trees on our property, but they were mostly pretty scrubby. The locust trees were the tallest, but they were skinny and didn’t really give a lot of shade. Our very small front yard would have looked much better without the row of sickly junipers. There was a crepe myrtle tree, the much beloved pet of my mother (I inherited her love for these reliable brighteners of the dog days of summer).
And there were two trees that produced fruit: the apricot tree and the mulberry tree. The apricot produced fruit that my mother turned into delicious turnovers. The fresh fruit has never really caught on with me, but apricots cooked into desserts and dried apricots are high on my list of most delicious treats.
And mulberries – well, they are not really good for anything but making home-made wine. Sort of like weed strawberries. But I didn’t know that as a child. To a child, fruit = sweet = delicious. I tried them unripe, almost ripe, ripe, and overripe. No good.
It was some consolation that the leaves from the tree made excellent food for silkworms. That earned me the prestigious privilege of taking the class silkworms home for spring break in the third grade. As a result, I was the only child in my class who got to see the silkworms spin their cocoons.
But the main distinction of our mulberry tree was that it served as the centerpiece of the island paradise habitat of the Beach Bum Club.
The Beach Bum Club. Membership: 3. Rex and Doug, the two boys for whom my mother babysat, and me. We were castaways, sort of like Swiss Family Robinson, only with more of a laid-back, devil-may-care attitude. We didn’t really want to be rescued; we liked our carefree life the way it was.
Our wardrobe consisted the cast-off t-shirts from my mother’s of dust rag pile and our own shorts or pedal-pushers, and the look was sometimes enhanced with scraggly facial stubble drawn on using my mother’s eyebrow pencil.
The boys and I tried to put together something that would pass for an island shack, but our carpentry skills were not up to anything resembling Swiss Family Robinson standards. And a tree house – my dream – was out of the question. There was no tree in our yard remotely suitable; only the mulberry tree had anything approaching the right shape, and its lower branches would support only our 5-, 7-, and 8-year old bodies.
So, the mulberry tree became the focus of our very-well-ventilated beach house. Scrap lumber from my father’s garage workshop became sunken ship remnants that had washed ashore and were used for the walls. Branches and twigs provided additional detail. There was a firepit lined with rocks. The shape was something like an oval, with the tree slightly to the side of the center. And the tree? It made a great lookout post. We took turns climbing up and searching for ships with the aid of toy binoculars from the dime store.
I have pulled up images of our old house and yard on Google Maps, and the yard looks even barer now than it did many years ago. The mulberry tree, apricot tree, and maybe even the crepe myrtle are most likely long gone. The physical me lived in the house, but the dream me lived in that mulberry tree.