At night I dream of rain, but when I wake, there is only dust and heat. On the road between Lubbock and San Angelo, where I have been driving these past two weeks to visit my mother, there are brown fields, empty of everything but dust devils. Sometimes I have counted as many as six at a time, rising lazily from the earth. They are remarkably long-lasting, taking their time as they roam across the fields, moving here and there, but always, strangely, as if they have purpose and direction.
My mother put a name to dust devils for me when I was a child. She pointed them out one day, as we were driving across the deserts of New Mexico. Later I stood in the stinging swirl of one in a vacant lot in our neighborhood, and knew it for what it was because she had named it.
She gave me the name for mirages, too, and I see these also as I drive the roads these hot summer days. When she told me that they were only the image of water and not the thing itself, I didn't believe her at first. But true to her word, the shimmer always stayed ahead of us, just out of reach. Men had died, she said to me, chasing mirages in the desert. And then she laughed, to show me that it was not a thing to worry too much about. She knew I was a worrier.
And in this way, by putting names to things, a mother helps a child unlock the puzzle that is the world.
Frances Williams Tomlinson
June 17, 1924-July 29, 2011