Tuesday, 26 August 2008

26 August 2008

work. Everybody told me to go to the farm across the highway from the camp. I went, and the farmer was in the kitchen with his women. He came out, listened to my story, and warned me he was only paying so much per hundred pound of picked cotton, three dollars. I pictured myself picking at least three hundred pounds a day and took the job. He fished out some long canvas bags from the barn and told me the picking started at dawn. I rushed back to Bea all glee. On the way a grapetruck went over a bump in the road and threw off great bunches of grape on the hot tar. I picked it up and took it home. Bea was glad. “Raymond and me’ll come with you and help.” “Pshaw!” I said. “No such thing!” “You see, you see, it’s very hard picking cotton. I show you how.” We ate the grapes and in the evening Freddy showed up with a loaf of bread and a pound of hamburg and we had a picnic. In a larger tent next to ours lived a whole family of Okie cottonpickers; the grandfather sat in a chair all day long, he was too old to work; the son and daughter, and their children, filed every dawn across the highway to my farmer’s field and went to work. At dawn the next day I went with them. They said the cotton was heavier at dawn because of the dew and you could make more money than in the afternoon. Nevertheless they worked all day from dawn to sundown. The grandfather had come from Nebraska during the great plague of the Thirties---that selfsame dustcloud my Montana cowboy had told me about---with the entire family in a jaloppy truck. They had been in California ever since. They loved to work. In the ten years the old man’s son had increased his children to the number of four, some of whom were old enough now to pick cotton. And in that time they had progressed from ragged poverty in Simon Legree fields to a kind of smiling respectability in better tents, and that was all. They were extremely proud of their tent. “Ever going back to Nebraska?” “Pshaw, there’s nothing back there. What we want to do is buy a trailer.” We bent down and began picking cotton. It was beautiful. Across the field were the tents, and beyond them the sere brown cottonfields that stretched out of sight, and over that the snowcapped Sierras in the blue morning air. This was so much better than wash-

1 comment:

Jannie Sue "Funster" said...

Yay! I'm caught up with you now, after a Canadian trip followed by two weeks of lying on the couch staring at the crack in the wall, followed by back-to-school-ness.