One day, late in August the sun scorched to almost 95 degrees by Eight-Thirty in the morning. As I looked out past the edge of the fields, over the sand ripples between the mesquite bushes; you could see the heat distorting the light as it rose from the heating sand. I had just stopped to take a water break. I stood there and let water drip over my scorched forehead. The water was musty and stagnant and tasted bitter. It came from large barrels that must have held chemicals at one time. I swayed either from the heat or maybe I was a bit un-well from the water, most of us were these days. I steadied myself against the nearest mesquite tree and drank more from the water cup. I watched Magdalena work through the rows of onions; even her grace could not protect her from the large onions. I would laugh out-loud each time she found a rather large one. She would almost end up on her rear each time when she tried to pull them. It got me thinking about how I had met her and her family.
The orchard of pecans seemed to engulf the ring of buildings. I walked up. There was a group of men standing around arguing. The Spanish I learned in boarding school was working and I understood most of what they were saying. I still was not close enough to see all of it. You could see women and children hanging from the sides of buildings as if to hold them up, watching as the argument continued. Their anxious eyes took in everything that was happening. A boy my age was yelling loudly at another man that seemed older than him. The argument was about a bag of potatoes that had been part of the day’s rations from the farm to all of the workers. Sometimes we would get paid in food items.
“Those rations are not yours, they are for my family.”- The boy shouted at the older man.
“Your family does not need them”- said the man hastily to the boy.
“You can just lend me your sister for tonight- then I will let you have the Potatoes back”- the man prodded.
Miguel raised back his fist and took a swing at the man. He missed and lost his balance and went stumbling and hit his face on a tree stump
“¡Usted es un borrico!” the man laughed at Miguel.” iii-aah, iii-aah” he continued to poke at Miguel.
My broken Spanish knew that the man had just called the boy a donkey. I just stood there frozen, and the man was laughing and looking out into the crowd trying to make eye contact with all of the men. They all were looking at the boy and chanting, “Miguel, Miguel. Miguel”
Miguel jumped up and went at the man and knocked him down, the Man pulled out a knife. Miguel knocked it from his hands. He reached down to pick it up. I saw it all happen from a mile away and it all seemed to happen in slow motion. I watched a white man who I later learned was the Farms — overseer come around the corner so fast and grab the boy named Miguel from behind.
Bleeding from the forehead, the man who seemed to be in charge, drug Miguel to a slightly bigger shack outside the right of buildings. I curiously approached the shack. I could hear them yelling at him in English and in Spanish. They were telling him to have his family out of the farm by noon the next day. I knew I could stop this at once with an explanation.
I drew in a deep breath and gathered all of my courage and knocked on the door. “What!”- a voiced yelled from inside.
“Uh- I, Uh I” I sputtered..
“Spit it out Boy”- the man said, can’t you see I am doing business here.
“It’s Uh, its Uh,” I stammered again…
“If you can’t say what you came to say, you need to leave now…” He growled at me.
“Look at this Kid, he can’t even talk right and he is standing here trying to talk to me…” the Man said to the other man sitting in the room.
The other man grinned. I looked down just in time to catch the boy named Miguel staring at me with pleading eyes. Get yourself together, you need to fix what you can —Remember the reason you are here.. I thought. I took a deep breath.
“Sir,” I said with authority, “This boy has not done anything but protect what little rations he was given and defend his sister’s name. “
The man sitting there watching, stopped and looked up at me. The Man I spoke to, turned around.
“Who are you, and what are you doing on my Farm”- The man asked.
I told him and told him what I had seen. The man contemplated my story as truth.
He let go of his grasp of Miguel.
“I tell you what Kid, how you would like to make some money watching over things during the mornings. “
“Wait..Uh—do you know anything about Pecan farming” he slid into.
I watched him with skepticism. I had seen this type of man, dealing with my father before.
“Sir, “I said again, “I do not wish to watch over things.” I started to come down from the temporary courage that I had found somewhere in my back pocket.
“I want to work; I want to learn how to work, from the bottom.” I paused. “From where it doesn’t count” – I pleaded.
The other man sitting in the room eyed me and started grinning again, this time he let out a laugh..
“You just turned down working as an overseer to pick pecans?” “Boy, you’re as nuts as my Son, here for offering you the position in the first place. “
I could tell I had amused him. Then he smiled at me. He nodded to his son, “Jack, let this kid work if he wants to.”
“Alright, I will let him work, picking the pecans… But if he so brings any trouble to my farm, because his father comes looking for him, you will handle it then”- He told his dad.
Later that night, I shared Miguel’s rations with him and his family. I have moved from farm to farm with him ever since…
Standing still was not good in the hot sun…I could feel my stomach churning. I needed to get to some shade soon. The heat of the day brought me back. I caught a glimpse of Magdalena still picking, which is where I needed to be to earn my keep
To be continued..