We were young; I must have been 10, so that would have made my brother, Steve about 6. We were kinda migrant workers before we realized what we were. Times were different. I had never heard the term. It was approximately 1962. We were picking plums in Healdsburg before grapes were ever planted! No daisy dukes in the fields or looking cutesy, never heard of sun protection, child labor laws or farm worker’s rights.
My Abuelito’s had been working the crops in that area since the late 1940’s, consequently they met ranchers and families doing the same type of work they were doing. If I understand correctly, they had developed relationships with certain ranchers, who liked their work and would invite them to return to prune and harvest plums for their whole ranch, year after year.
One year I recall, joining my Abuelito’s, we lived in a huge barn with many families, similar to us, the only thing separating us was a bed sheet.
I also recall if we had an especially good day, we were treated to a swim in the Russian River and an ice cream cone.
One afternoon, as we sat outside, after we returned home from picking plums, Mi Abuelita asked my brother and I, see that house over there, as she points. We respond, “yes in unison.” Well Sra. Martinez lives there, she said for you kids to go by and she would give us some vegetables from her garden. “Ok, grandma.” Now, are you sure you see her house, “yes.” We start walking, and walking, then climbing, practically on all fours. We finally looked up and as if a mirage, a pool appeared in front of us (sure could of used a drink of water) with a man and women scantily dressed. My brother and I look at each other, with a sense of surprise and fear. You know that gut-wrenching feeling when your instincts tell you, boy we messed up! I’m thinking Sra. Martinez lives in a mansion. A man approaches us and yells, “what are you kids doing here, get the he….out of here.” I proceeded to explain to him we were looking for Sra. Martinez and the vegetables she promised my grandmother as I pointed to where we lived.
We ran all the way back to our barn converted space. Out of breath, and empty-handed, we explained to our family we had seen this beautiful pool and a beautiful home with a mean man, who had yelled at us and terrified us! So we filled our panzas with plums.
Later on I will write more about my family’s Napa area adventures; about homes my family lived in where a man had been murdered. And, one which my uncles said was haunted.
They also lived in a barn, on the land that is now Frog’s Leap Winery.