Tuesday, September 17, 2013

We ain’t got it so bad, now do we?

Part 4 & 5

We last left Guy and Lester limping their way between tire patches across a part of America that had nothing but fear driven hate for these newcomer white trash from the southeast. Truth was, it was bad everywhere and the locals feared these lowlifes flooding the area would be taking their jobs. They figured they’d be willing to work for penny’s, so what little factories and business’s were still hiring would have no choice but to take advantage of that fact.
With fear being the kindling and fire of danger, it was only sheer luck that Guy and Lester finally one day stood at the border between Nevada and California in one piece and once more danced the dance of joy.
On the way west, they’d seen flyers telling of lots of jobs on the farms in California, so that’s where they headed. Compared to coming across the country, California seemed such a busy place with less chances to use their special gasoline device and they were running mighty low on fuel now, so they had to find some way to make money soon.

It was such a slow arduous trip across the country that it was early 1932 before they arrived in what they were now considering the promise land. As they traveled on highway 99, they saw vast green fields planted with every description of vegetable crops and mile and after mile of fruit and nut trees planted in rows so straight, their eye couldn’t begin to see the end of them.
Also, they saw men and women tilling the soil, planting, pruning, driving tractors and toiling in the fields by the hundreds, which only increased the growling in their stomachs along with the hope in their souls.
One of the discerning things they noticed while driving by the fields were the folks in small lines waiting for work, a testament to how many people were there for the available jobs. They suspected this would be the case but could only hope their timing was such, they could get in on the beginning of the job rush just starting from out east.

Just south of Los Angeles they saw their chance at a job with mile after mile of Orange groves on both sides of Highway 99 as far as their eyes could see in every direction. Once again they saw hundreds of field hands hustling the oranges into wagons, like ants bringing the honey to the queen bee. To their delight, they could tell by the lack of lines that there was work to be had here.
With sunset fast approaching, Guy and Lester really needed to find a place to make camp for the night and get something to eat. While coming across the country, on top of stealing chickens, fishing and the rare times they found game to hunt, they were still constantly hungry.

Having no idea where they could set up some kind of temporary camp while hopefully working the orange groves around the area, all they could do was watch the others like themselves coming and going. They soon noticed a few heading down a side road heading eastward following their now constantly elongating shadows, so they jumped in line and followed them to see where it might lead. Along the way, they came across a family along side the road with steam rising in the air from the engine of their old car. As they passed the scene, they saw at least a dozen children from babies to teenagers looking about as forlorn and lost as anyone could be. They all wore threadbare clothing showing more skin and bones that material.
Both Guy and Lester were pretty handy when it came to fixing cars, so they pulled over up ahead and walked back to be greeted by a middle-aged man wiping his forehead in the dry hot air of Southern California and a wife with tears leaving dirty trails down her grimy face.

Even with their dire predicament, they still greeted the brothers with smiles showing more missing teeth than intact and after scrubbing his hand on his trousers; he held it out for a firm handshake.
“Howdy friend.” The man said.
”Howdy.” Guy answered back. “Looks like your having some trouble here.”
”Yup. Seems something is wrong with the old radiator or something. Just all the sudden like it started pissin steam like a geyser.”
“Well, we could take a look see ifin you don’t mind.” Lester said. “We knows a little about engines.”
“Well, that’d be mighty friendly of you sir. We’d surely appreciate any help ya might be able to give right about now.”

After opening the hood of the old car, it was quickly determined the problem was only a crack in the radiator hose, so Guy and Lester headed back to their pickup to retrieve a piece of rubber from a inner tube along with some bailing wire. Then after cracking open the radiator cap to let out the pressure, they went about encircling the cracked hose with the rubber, then wiring both ends with the tightened wire and they were done.
In the meantime, the man had brought back a bucket of water from a nearby pond, so he took the cap off and refilled the tank, then replaced the cap and restarted the motor.

As they stood there inspecting the patch and finding no more leaks, the man thanked them profusely.
“Sir?” Lester asked. “We was wondering. We seen others heading down this road and just followed along having nowhere else to go tonight. Do you know where we might find a place to make camp for a few days while we look for work?
“Why I do sir.” The man answered. “Matter of fact, that’s a where we were aheading. We heard from others there was a small river a ways on ahead where folks like us were setting up camp, so we thought to go there too. If you’d just follow us, we’ll head thataway right now afore this here radiator hose gives us anymore trouble.”
”Well. That sounds good to us.” Guy said. “We’ll be right behind ya, in case there’s anymore trouble with your car.”
”That be mighty nice of you sir. Mighty nice indeedy. I thank ya. Ifin there be any way to pay ya back, I will.”

So before long, the man and women got all the kids pilled back into the now very crowded car and they pulled back onto the highway like a caravan of two following a few other cars traveling that way.
It wasn’t long after cresting a long hill they had their first glimpse of a waterway winding it’s way through the countryside.
After so much traveling with no convenient way to bath, the idea of a nice soak in relatively clean river water greatly appealed to Guy and Lester. Soap being a luxury they hadn’t had in oh so long, it didn’t matter. Just being able to soak their bodies and cloths in water sounded mighty fine right about then.

As they got close enough to start seeing details of the encampment, they noted something odd. Interspersed throughout the area were 50-gallon barrels, stacked high with huge overflowing mounds of Orange peels, some stretching for a dozen feet encircling the barrels.
When they stopped and asked someone why all the orange peels were piled all around, there were told the men would walk a couple of miles in the dark of each night and steal the oranges from the surrounding groves to have anything to eat. They told them these were the same groves some of the men were finding jobs at picking the fruit during the day. They would purposely leave some of the oranges closest to the river they could come back and get in the night for themselves.

It took a while meandering between the camps and people but they finally found a clearing they might call their own, at least for a while.
All the way through the maze of tents, shanties and leaning cardboard affairs some were calling home were every ragtag example of humanity one could imagine. Even though Guy and Lester were members of a family with 13 children, it was still rather discerning to see so many clearly malnourished, skinny, at times almost lifeless children they saw. Usually with so many children there would be loud noises children always make but everyone they saw were mostly withdrawn and quiet, only setting or standing with eyes glazed over with hunger, sadness and fatigue from the bleak circumstances they found themselves in.

Later after setting up their rather sparse encampment, they joined a group of men heading over to the groves for just enough oranges to supplement the flour they had. For the next two weeks all they had to eat was a few fish from the river and flour pancakes for bread and oranges, lots of oranges.

To be continued:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

We ain’t got it so bad, now do we?

Part 3.

We last left guy setting at the kitchen table with nothing in his heart but relief and thankfulness, that he hadn't had to carry out his desperate plan to rob the local grocery store of enough bags of groceries to feed his family, then turn himself in to the local sheriff.
Truth was, his family and Sheriff Dan were long time friends. In fact Guy’s father and he were hunting partners. Guy knew Sheriff Dan would be more than sympathetic to their plight but also knew he’d have to put Guy in Jail on top of charging him with the serious offence of robbery with a gun, even though it wasn’t loaded.

He also knew with Lester’s job, the whole family would now have at least enough food to sustain themselves for a while longer. The few times in the past weeks when he and his brothers had time to get together, the conversation always involved what a lot of the folks around there were talking about.
Most everyone was talking about heading out west. The rumors were, there were jobs in the planting fields out California way. In fact more and more people were packing up everything they could in the back of their trucks and deserting their now worthless farms to head out west in search of a better life, or at the least enough food to live.

As fate would have it, Lester’s job only lasted a couple of weeks, Not even enough time for the meager food to begin filling in the spaces between the skin and bones their bodies were becoming all to familiar with.
That and the fact that none of Guy’s siblings or parents had found jobs drove the family into holding a meeting around the empty kitchen table on the first Sunday morning they were all available.
The discussion quickly progressed to how they were all going to pack up everything and leave the only home they’d known, which brought tears to their Mom and the girl’s eyes but only hung heads from the guys trying their best to hide their sadness and be stoic.
Most of the brothers told them they’d already made arrangements with some of their friends to go with them out west, so that made the whole process somewhat easier.

Their Mom and Dad would take the three girls with them, so that only left Guy and Lester to work out a way to travel. Luckily, they’d been working on an old beat up Ford Pickup this last year and only had tires to patch, and then they’d be ready to go also.
So during the next week, the family all pitched in to bundle everything they owned, which wasn’t much, into a small trailer their Father had built out of an old truck chassis, they would pull behind the beater family car.
Their Mom being the ever-frugal one brought out a sack of flower and a small sack of salt for each sibling. That along with some fishing string, hooks and of course their rifles and a small sack of bullets would have to be their main staples during the trip, along with what fish they could catch or game they might find along the way.

After patching the threadbare tires, Guy and Lester piled all their cloths plus a few pieces of furniture that wouldn’t fit in anyone else’s rig on top of the growing pile of stuff. About then, they watched several billowing clouds coming up the drive, they knew to be the friends of their brothers come to pick them up.
When the car and trailer, along with the trucks were loaded, they all stood looking at the crazy sight. It looked like a Mexican caravan ready to head out into a desert hoping for an oasis.
Then they stood there in relative silence squinting their eyes against the blowing dust, pretending to be lost in thought for quite a while, not quite knowing what to say or do next. Their Dad made a small speech then telling everyone they’d find each other out west but down deep they all knew this might be the last time some of them ever saw each other. Really, this would be the first time the family had truly been separated, so it felt a bit like a funeral as they finally grew close and held each other in a long and silent group hug.

Then one by one, after taking a last look back at the old now pitiful looking homestead, they all started climbing aboard.
As they each started their rigs with puffs of smoke announcing success, Eunice, one of the sisters, jumped out and ran back into the house. In just a moment she was racing back with tears streaming down her muddy face, hugging a small rag doll she had almost forgotten.

So one by one, the rag tag collection of old beat up automobiles puffed down the dirty driveway; each leaving a cloudy trail behind as their last and only testament anyone had ever lived there.
As they reached the end of the driveway and turned toward town, everyone one of them craned their necks looking out the side windows for one last glance at the home they’d very well never see again but alas, with the cars dust clouds added to the never ending dust storms, the house was gone as if never there.
Even with the price of gasoline only 10 cents a gallon, it took every last penny they’d saved for this purpose to fill all the tanks. 

They started out as a caravan but before long were separated, so Guy and Lester took turns driving as they made their way westward, riding on hope and faith they would discover a better world at it’s end.
Being farm boys and flat broke; they had created out of an old hand bicycle pump a contraption to siphon gas out of gas tanks along the way. Put one hose in a cars tank, the other in theirs and pump. They knew that was stealing but having no other way to get gasoline, it left them no choice but to bend the rules this once and pray the powers that be might forgive them.
They found the best opportunity was on Sunday’s at a country church. They would pull into the dirt parking lot next to a likely looking car and wait for the loud singing and hallelujahs to drift out of the church and then pump like crazy as long as they dared, then madly drive on their way once more.
In those days, most folks attended church, which brought up another guilt inducing but necessary opportunity. Before leaving the area, they would find a small farm with no one home and grab up a chicken from the chicken coop, which would add to their meager foodstuffs, calming their constantly growling stomachs for a few more days.

As soon as they started driving through mid-America things changed for the worse. More than once as they approached a small town on the highway, they were met on the road by a group of angry townsfolk with rifles screaming. “Get out of here you white trash! We don’t want your kind here.”
When they asked how they were to be on their way around the town, one of the men would bark. “Back a piece is a trail off to the left, turn there, then a ways further you’ll find a dirt track beside the river heading west you can take. Now Get!”

To be continued: