Desert Companion

Gather 'round

Families reflect on the special places where they come together to work, play and share their lives

Whisenaut family

The family that gardens together

Tiffany, John, Madison and Molly Whisenant

Tiffany: The backyard sold us on the house. Before we moved in, we came here several times and sat on the back porch swing. We pictured the garden. I watched how the sun moved across the yard. We moved in around Christmas time, because I wanted to get the seedlings going by February. … On Sundays, we roll out of bed and take it slowly, because we’re all so busy throughout the week. Madison makes pancakes, and we head out to the backyard, feed the chickens, take care of what we need to do. The girls play, climb trees; I’m in the garden…

John: I’m Mr. Fix-It. That’s my job! It’s been a really productive garden. We had this massive Purple Cherokee tomato plant out there that was taller than me and wider than I could stretch my arms. Best tomatoes I ever tasted.

Tiffany: The girls cook with us a lot. We’ll have them go out and pick vegetables for dinner, or some herbs. They save seeds with me. Molly can identify pretty much any vegetable or fruit. She tastes everything. They won’t eat carrots unless they come out of my garden.

Support comes from

John: It’s not how the garden fits into our family; it’s how our family fits into it. I started playing drums when I was 19, because I wanted to do something for work that I love. Then, I decided to take it a step further and get a job fishing. Tiffany getting a job gardening (she’s general manager of Garden Farms of Nevada) fit into our ideal of not having crappy jobs that you hate. It’s important to show the girls that you don’t have to be stuck. You can make a living doing what you love. — as told to Heidi Kyser


Ramos family

Cooking up a family reunion

ShaRhonda Ramos, Deven and Dwane Crawford

We moved into our house in December 2007, and we didn’t have a grill. We knew that barbecuing is what brings a family together, so we got a charcoal grill from Lowe’s. My mom’s whole side of the family is French Creole, from the South, and she and my godfather, Hugh Jones, just didn’t think that grill was right. They thought, “If we could find one of those barrel grills, it would be so much better for cooking catfish.”

I’m not even sure where it came from. Dwane and I came home one day and my godfather and his friend were dragging it through the house to the back yard. We had a monsoon party in July, so everybody came over to break it in. It was supposed to be for my mom, but her yard and house are smaller than ours, so whenever it’s time to barbecue, everybody fits here: my mom and her significant other; my sister and her significant other and son; my godfather and his wife and their four children, who are all grown and have children — every family gathering is at least a dozen people. We’ll say, ‘We’re barbecuing on Sunday,’ and we know everybody is going to come.

In a way, it’s the family barbecue, but it’s at our house. My sister can do more on it than anyone, but my mom claims it’s hers, so whenever we barbecue, she comes over, just to make sure we’re doing it right. — ShaRhonda Ramos, as told to Heidi Kyser

Corcoran family

A place for a peaceful gathering, laughter and food

Chantal, Chris, Sarah, Barry and Grace Corcoran

In the early ’40s, when both her boys left for war, my husband’s great-grandfather bought his great-grandmother this beautiful dining set. An odd consolation gift, I think now, a bit of a gamble, considering that two of those chairs would sit empty for some time — possibly forever.

But I don’t know the circumstances. Perhaps she was mourning the newly empty chairs at her current table, and he thought a new set would help. Perhaps her fear and heartbreak only added to his, and he had to do something, anything, to try to cheer her; perhaps she’d been eyeing the set for years. Or perhaps it was optimism that inspired the elaborate purchase: Surely, if he bought such an exquisite piece, his boys would come home, the family would gather, a celebration would ensue.

My husband’s grandfather, Hurricane Harry (so nicknamed for the planes he flew with the British Air Force) and his brother, both did return, but first Harry’s plane would be shot down; first he would be declared missing in action while he wandered alone, for seven days, in the barren desert; first his parents would receive that telegraph, a calling card from their worst nightmare. So, we can well imagine that meal when, finally, their children came together, again, to feast on roast pork, creamed carrots and peas and homemade jelly rolls.

“And tea, tea was always served,” says my mother-in-law, who as a small girl would play under that table only a few years later, while the growing family flourished and reveled in food, stories and song. A generation later, it would be a boy hiding under the table, eavesdropping on the delicious conversations of his parents and grandparents — the boy who would eventually be my husband. Then, 60 years after those first full gatherings, it would be our turn. Our kids beneath the table, playing with toy cars, while we welcomed family and friends, poured wine, talked until midnight — our feet on the carpet, pillows for little heads.

That seems like yesterday, and now only our dog Shadow properly fits beneath the table. They’re growing so fast. The children last as long as we do now, in their chairs; sometimes they’re up even later. Soon, it will be their turn. I’ll oil the wood, have the chairs refurbished.

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