April 25, 2018
Humor has always been one of the best medicines in our family. As I posted in my previous post of my experience in picking cotton in which my sister (Nellie Serna) and I returned home penniless after a full day of work. We were able to tend our physical and emotional wounds with a dose of laughter with Mi Mama who was quick witted and had humor similar to Anjelah Johnson. She had the ability to imitate voices, and precise timing in Spanish and English. She kept her children laughing. Her story telling abilities were more captivating than Saturday morning cartoon watching.
We picked plums in Healdsburg and Napa area where we all ended up sick with Montezuma’s revenge. Garlic, potatoes, cotton, tomatoes, weeded and packed lettuce all around Huron. We had a short stint picking raisin grapes outside of Fresno, short only because we were fired! The four of us went out; Manuela, Steve, Miguel and myself. We ranged in ages from 12 to 6. The labor contractor was Domingo, who was my uncle Jimmy’s father by marriage. Jimmy drove us to a vineyard just outside of Fresno, at the crack of dawn, we were all excited to work, anticipating our earnings. You must understand this was a love/hate relationship; we wanted to earn money, but we didn’t necessarily want to perform hard labor, we were just kids.
All of the adults in my family seemed interested in us kids working! I couldn’t understand it then, but I do now. It’s not because they were mean. They wanted to teach us the work ethic and the value of a dollar. Well they did!
Yet, there is a beauty of being out early in the fields of crops that is difficult to express unless you have lived it. The smells of the air hit you first; ripe with the intoxicating sweetness of the fertile soil blended with grapes. Then the sounds of familiar Spanish in the worker’s excitement was sweet poetry to my ears. The feel of the cluster of grapes in your hands or the wet vines with morning moisture are sensations penetrated deep in the recesses of my soul, blended with stickiness and dirt. And, it goes without saying we tasted plenty of those little Muscat’s of Alexandria till our tummy’s and heart’s content. As the oldest, I devised a plan of action, which had been orchestrated by Mi Mama at home. Everyone had a role. Manuela, Steve and I picked, Mike would neatly assemble the sheets of papers in the middle of rows. The papers (trays) are used to spread the grapes to dry. Once dried, days later, the paper sheets are rolled and taken to a processing plant. Mike, as the youngest had a pretty easy job. I looked up and noticed he had gone ahead and neatly laid out about 20 paper sheets for us. He curled up and fell asleep, underneath the fertile vineyard.Manuela and I picked grapes behind as Steve went ahead picking grapes in his tub. All of a sudden I heard an outcry of commotion coming from my brother, Steve, “bees bees! ” Steve had accidentally come upon a bee’s nest. As he ran he stepped all over the neatly laid sheets of papers including the ones with grapes. We all immediately followed and scrambled running from the frenzied bees, in all directions, making a mess in the vineyard. Bees everywhere had been unleashed like a wild fire, out of control. We single-handedly managed to get everyone out of th vineyard. Consequently, that was the end of our picking grapes career. We were immediately fired! But, all was not loss, our uncle Jimmy gave us money and we hung out at the lunch wagon eating and exploring Mother Nature as we played and laughed the afternoon away. Till we got our ride home, from our uncle Jimmy. I’m sure Domingo was happy to be rid of us. Let it be known, our garlic picking experiences were much better, we always had fun in the hardest of circumstances and we actually made a little money picking garlic, but that’s another story. Abrazos