Miguel’s own mother, Marisol Moreno-Zapata had died in 1973; In the end she had suffered from pesticide poisoning. Conditions in the Colonia’s were often harsh. There was a lack of clean running water, electricity was a rarity. Medical attention was often not found when one of the workers really needed it. Miguel told me of how his mother, just went crazy. One day she developed blisters on her hands and arms. Then he said her skin became this strawberry color. In her last days she fell into a coma and then later died in Luis’s arms with her entire family at her side. His family buried her there in Castroville California.
Soon he brought his family to New Mexico in the late 70’s from somewhere in California. I just can’t remember where, at this time.
Miguel would cry each time he would tell me of his brother he lost the same year as his mother. Alex had only been 3 years old then in 1973 He died two weeks after their mother also from pesticide poisoning. He would get all choked up and tell how his little brother was so full of life one day and then in a matter of days was gone.
His father Luis would irrigate 24 hours a day. His father would irrigate in the rain and cold. Miguel and I worked spring, summer and fall. During the harvest season, we would work seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day, earning only 40 to 60 Dollars a week.
Miguel’s brother Jessie and Sister Magdalena lived with us and worked in the fields too. Luis’s Brother Daniel would sometimes come to stay with us in between stints in jail. He would be around just long enough to get into a fight at the local bar and they would haul him off to Jail.
Magdalena was only 14 when I met the Zapata’s. She was a rare desert flower. Her beauty far surpassed any of those ladies my mother would have had lunch with at the clubs. Magdalena had a simple crooked smile that could melt butter. I would watch her every moment that I could. She had the long elegance of a dancer. Long fingers and slender wrists. She seemed to just float above the ground as she preformed the manly chore of picking Chiles or Cotton or Soy beans, or shoveling the pecans into the trucks.
Magdalena used to sneak off to the river and pray during lunch when we were not in full harvest. I asked her once why the river, she said that it was clean place and that she was embarrassed for God to visit her in the roach infested shacks we all shared.
Jessie, like all younger brothers tormented us. He was always witty in his words and devilish in his schemes. He would never let us be for even a minute, he was always trying to be part of any conversation we were having. He would go on to college someday, but at the time we were just working to make our daily living. He could do math in his head big math problems. Like how much we would all make from the days work. He could figure it all out.
We would work from June till right after the first frost each year harvesting onions and chilies and pecans. I would move from farm to farm depending on the crop that was coming in. After the crops were done for the year, Jessie and Magdalena would go to school.
The Desert life had been cruel to me in my short 19 years. My skin was like leather from working in the hot New Mexico sun. The sun redden and bronzed my skin, I could easily pass as a local. Despite my golden locks, I still could fit right in. My hands were full of callouses and cracked and bled in the winters.
At night I would watch the children of the Colonia’s run around and play. They were still children and young at heart. Life had not hardened them like it had me and Miguel. Life had also not touched Sweet Magdalena either. She would write at night in her journal and a smile would cross her face as I watched her. I hoped she did not know how often I would watch her.
I watched Luis whittle at stick one day into a whistle, he was so skilled at carving the whistle. It inspired me to learn how to carve too. I started making little figures of animals and trees and Dinosaurs too.. One by one the children from the other shacks would come and whisper to me what animal they would like me to carve for them. Soon all of the kids had their own toys, something their parents could not afford to give them.
To be continued….