It was 1965 when I first went to work in the fields.
After many years it still leaves a bitter taste, its grueling work will leave you in a daze.
I was ten years old and my best friend lied to the field foreman, telling him that I was thirteen-years old; it was the benefit of being “big boned”…there are few.
The field opportunity was by choice, it was for extra money during the summer and not because it had to feed a family or pay rent.
It was almost 4a.m., brown, white, black all wrapped up in flannel and sweat shirts jammed into a colorless van on its way out of town on highway 38 towards Merill.
The flatlands are as far as you can see. You can’t feel the climb to around 4000 feet where the soil turns to sandy loam.
The air is very still and cold for a summer morning and the sun starts to bounce off the the dirty windows but offering little heat.
It is silent except for the occasional snort of a sleeping worker.
Out the window thousands and thousands of acres of potatoes make up a green carpet as far as you can see. Rows and rows spreading out, that become overwhelming when you know they need to be weeded by hand.
You learn fast that you will break your back if you try to pull hunched over, even a young back can’t take much. It’s best to crawl, on you hands and knees, tossing the thick green weeds in the trench ahead of you where it will help to cushion.
After the first few days there is no point in even looking up, it’s just tough on
the soul once you see what is looming ahead.
The days are hot and all the workers cram tight under the only shade for miles that is provided by an old flatbed trailer. A couple dozen gritty hands shoveling in sandwiches and warm water going down like a fine meal.
There are times that I’ve been more tired from work in my life, but never so defeated. By the end of the week you almost forget the itching and light red rash from the pesticides, thoughts that don’t really hit until later in life.
All you really want to do is just get through the week, so you can get paid out by the foreman who dips in to his jeans pulling out a large wad of cash.
The ride home is much like the ride out, workers quiet, and too tired to talk.
It was almost nine years later when I found myself in the cotton fields outside of El Paso looking for a couple of days work to pay a bit of gas to keep the journey alive.
The work was by hand in areas where the machines couldn’t reach, but the cotton offered just enough return to not give up on.
Your hands better be of leather as the cotton is protected by a tough bowl that can take its toll.
Again, it was my choice and I’m not there to feed anyone but myself.
The faces were different, all brown but red from the sun and dirty from the earth, even the foreman. The color of the jeans and the roll of cash were the same, just as I remembered.