|2016 Adult Learner Writings|
Watching Obama put the medal around Mr. Byers' neck, I knew the country was going to be OK. At least for the time being, I didn't worry about Donald Trump getting elected president. I just thought about how privileged we are as Americans to be able to have soldiers who fight for our freedom. I was also grateful to not have to watch any more of the presidential campaigning for a few minutes.
Along the way, I asked Roger and Mike, “Are there a lot of Black people and Black churches in Douglas?” I wanted to know because that's the kind of church I preferred. They looked at each other, and Roger said, “Maybe, a dozen Black people. And, maybe one church or so. But, not very many.”
Later that day, we turned off the interstate, headed toward Douglas. About half a mile from town, guess what I saw! A house on the left side of the road had at least twenty Black people in the front yard. I then said, “I thought you guys said maybe a dozen in the whole town, Roger!” He said, “Well, that's what I thought.”
As we came into town, I saw a few more Black guys going into Circle K. I jokingly said to Roger and Mike, “Are there any White people here? Because all I've seen is Black people!” They just smiled at me. They had me pull into Circle K to get drinks and chips. I asked if we could go to a grocery store to get some real food for supper. Roger said we would have to get something here because it was past 7 P.M. I asked, “Why???” He said Circle K was the only store open at that time of night. I replied, “It's only a little after 7!” Roger said, “I know, but all stores close at 7 P.M. And, on Sundays stores don't open at all.” So I bought some hot dogs, buns, and mustard before we headed north out of town.
About ten miles out of Douglas, we came upon a dirt road that led to a small trailer court. The sky was just starting to get dark when we turned into the driveway of a dark trailer. The trailer was not locked, so we all went inside. On the kitchen table were a few oil lamps with oil in them. The guys lit them, and we walked through the trailer. Exploring the empty trailer with oil lamps was scary because of the way the lamps made shadows on the walls.
Since the trailer had been empty for over two years, everything was dusty, even the beds, but the beds were all made. The kitchen had plenty of dishes and a clothes washer. And, the water was on. But, the trailer had no power. We had to make a campfire outside, so we could roast hot dogs on sticks over the fire. The boys loved that.
The next day, we got the power turned on and bought gas for the trailer. The gas cost over $600 to fill up the giant oblong tank in the back of the trailer. The gas delivery company told us that the gas in the tank should last until spring.
With the power on, we were able to go to the grocery store the next day to buy food. Douglas had only two grocery stores in the whole town. One was called Winn Dixie and the other was Piggly Wiggly. The fact that the whole town closed at 7 PM was so weird to me.
The next morning I made breakfast, and I fixed lunches for the three guys to take with them to look for work. As the sun came up, the guys walked out to the road to hitchhike into town to look for work. The first truck that came by picked them up. My boys and I stayed at the trailer, so I could air it out, clean it up, and make it homey. The guys were gone all day. The sky was almost dark when a truck pulled up at the edge of the trailer court and dropped them off.
I had made a pot of beans, some fry bread and fried potatoes for supper. The guys were real tired and sunburned. They had worked on a watermelon field all day, and they each made $25.00. They ate and showered and went to bed.
The following weeks, we all had work almost every day. My sons went with me and played with all the other workers’ kids. If we didn't have field work, we would go to town and try and rake a rich person's yard. Raking would take us about six hours and $20.00 was our pay for all of us.
We did migrant kind of work. Most of the time we worked together in the same field but not side by side. We only worked in a cotton field once. Each cotton ball is in a boll, and the tips of the boll were sharp and pointy. You have to pull the four tips apart to get to the boll open wide enough so you can pull out the cotton. The tips of the boll poke your fingertips until they bleed. It's not worth $20.00 a day.
We worked on a chicken farm that housed thousands of chickens. The building had thousands of cages with one chicken in each; however, once in a while you could find two chickens in one cage. The cages were stacked three high on both sides of the walkway. The top row was about eight inches back from the bottom row. The middle rows were about four inches closer to you, and the bottom was even with the sidewalk. My job was to gather the eggs. I pushed a cart along the walkway, grabbing eggs first from the top cages, then the middle cages, and finally from the bottom cages on both sides of the walkway at the same time as I pushed the cart with my stomach. Sometimes I would get cut from a sharp piece of the cage as I grabbed an egg or the chicken would peck me. At times, the cart was hard to push because of all the chicken poop caught up in the wheels of the cart.
About every three days, the farmer drove a small tractor, with its plow down, down each row to keep the poop off the sidewalk so the carts could move easier. I was never surprised to see a big rat run in front of my cart in the poop with a big black rat snake chasing it. This mostly happened when the poop was deep over the row. One time, Mike was allowed to drive the tractor. Because he wasn't paying attention and going too fast, he didn't stop early enough and ended up flipping the tractor at the end of a row into the giant pile of poop. Oh, how Mike smelled.
My sons often helped me wash the dirtiest eggs. One day, they found a hurt chicken, and they spent most of their time with it, giving it extra food. My boys always had some kids to play with, too. I never had any problems getting them to bed. We made $25.00 a day for that job, and they let us take a case of eggs home each week. A case contains twenty-four flats, or 720, eggs. So, we had a lot of eggs to eat. Before taking this job, I didn't know that only the dirtiest eggs get washed and that eggs don't have to be refrigerated, but now I know.
One week, we all picked pecans off of trees. For each five gallon bucket we filled, we got $5.00. At the end of the day, we could take a bucket of them home. Another week, we worked on a dairy farm. We milked cows with milking machines, and there were a lot of cows. We started around five A.M. and worked way into the afternoon. The boss' wife would make lunch for all the workers. When it was ready, she rang the triangle that hung on the porch so we all could hear it. Lunch consisted of “you know it” steak, potatoes, gravy, corn on the cob, pecan pie, and cold milk. We got payed $25.00 each. We took a few gallons of milk home each day we worked.
We harvested watermelons one week. It's hard work because you have to bend to check the watermelon on the ground. If it's ready to be picked, then you twisted it off the vine and laid it on the ground. The next person picked up and threw it to the catcher. The catcher, the person walking next to the moving truck, threw the watermelon to the person standing on the back of the truck. The person on the back of the truck was catching the melons from both sides of the truck. Sometimes that person missed the toss or dropped the melon, so we were able to eat those watermelons in the field. Because the fields were full of insects, eating cracked watermelons meant that you had to fight bees and flies and wear sticky clothes for the rest of the day. But, we could take a few home each day.
Another job was picking yellow squash. They had hair-like stickers all over them and on the vine that you had to pick them from. It was best to wear gloves and a white long-sleeve shirt with a long tail that covered your butt because you were bending all day long and the sunburn really hurts your lower back for days.
The last job that I can think of was working in a tobacco field. That was a sticky job, too. The big leaves were sticky, and the big green tobacco worms would stick to you also. You had to ride on this machine that is very low to the ground with seats on both sides. As the machine moved slowly between rows, you had to pull off the bottom leaves on each plant and put them on the conveyor belt in front of you. The boss had us rotate places at the end of each row. They let us take one leaf home every night. That one leaf made three or four packs of smokes after drying it out.
Some weeks two of the guys milked cows, one gathered eggs, and the boys and I walked down the sides of the road and picked wild blackberries. The boys washed the berries and ate as much as they could when I wasn't looking. I would know when they did because their fingers and lips would turn blackish. I made blackberry dumplings for dessert that night and put some of them in a bowl and sprinkle sugar on them so they would be ready for snack the next day. A few times, we each worked different jobs. That had its advantages because at the end of the day each of us brought some of what we picked or did home. We had plenty milk, eggs, vegetables, pecans, watermelon and steaks for weeks. Never had to worry about bringing lunches because the people we worked for always brought lunches for everyone, even the kids. We never had to drive to work because the boss picked us up and dropped us back off.
Each day, twenty to fifty people worked the fields. They paid us daily. The sad thing was that if you were White, you made $25.00 a day. If you were Mexican or Black, you got paid $20.00 a day.
When we had days off we would just rest, have a BBQ, go fishing, go to the movies or go swimming. Gilberto and Israel loved to go swimming. The town did not have a public pool so we had to walk or hitchhike to a swimming hole. Most of the time while we were swimming a herd of cows would come through, and we would just move out of their way. By the time we headed home, we had dried on mud in our hair and mud pies (cow poop) between our toes, but we all had fun. We had to spray ourselves off with the hose before we could go inside to take a shower. Whatever clothes we wore swimming, we used them every time because Georgia doesn't have dirt. Georgia has red clay, and this clay doesn't come out.
I believe life in Georgia was OK. The people were nice. They treated us as part of their families. Gilberto and Israel had lots of friends to play with and made money when they wanted to work. The work days were very long, pay wasn't good, but when all four of us worked we earned a hundred dollars a day, plus we had a lot of good food that didn't cost us anything. Roger and Mike were right about jobs, but I don't know about living well because we worked a lot. Gilberto and Israel loved it there because they made money, played a lot, went swimming and fishing, had a lot of friends, and did boy stuff. I believe I would go back there to live now since I have monthly income to enjoy the peacefulness and friendliness.