Thursday, March 25, 2004

Stories

I have always known that my dad was born in Iowa (Carson) and graduated from high school there. He met my mom in California, and that's where all my grandparents and aunts and uncles lived too. For some reason, I never knew how, when or why my dad's family moved from Iowa to California. So I asked him last week.

They left Iowa during the height of The Depression when things got to the point where they could no longer afford to buy feed for their milk cows and other livestock. So their dad decided they were going to go to California to make a new start. They sold everything they couldn't take with them (to this day my dad doesn't know why the boxes of worn out jeans and overalls had to come along, but his mother insisted) and had just enough money to make the drive to California and pay the first month's rent on an old shack.

My dad is the second oldest of four boys, and at the time the two younger boys were still in school. He said that his dad and older brother didn't seem to be looking for work too hard. Maybe they thought the work would come to them. But my dad was worried that if they didn't find work soon they'd be out on the streets and so he got up early every day and went out looking.

He noticed one morning a group of Mexicans in work clothes standing on a street corner. As he watched, a farm truck pulled up and they all started piling in the back. He just piled in too. They all gave him some funny looks like they were thinking, "What are you doing here, gringo?" but he just kept his mouth shut. When they got to the farm, everyone got out of the truck and the foreman started assigning work. When the foreman saw my dad, he said he should just turn around and get back on the truck. My dad said, "No, sir. I need work and I'm willing to do whatever you've got." Turns out they were picking carrots that day. They had to be bundled just so and tied up with a piece of string using a special knot. The foreman told him, "This is piece work. You'll never be fast enough to make it." "Well, sir, I'd like to try." And so the foreman showed him how to bundle the carrots and tie the knot. He worked all day that first day, which surprised the foreman, but didn't make wages (pick a minimum or get zilch). He made wages every day after that, though. And he figured out that if his dad and older brother came out with him and just bundled the carrots and let him tie them, they could pick enough that all three of them could make wages. And that's what they did.

In a short period of time, he got moved to the dairy to milk cows. He milked cows in the morning and evenings. He got a line on a job at a nursery (the plant kind) and so got up and milked cows from 4 to about 8 and then worked in the nursery during the day and went back and milked cows at night. About 15 or 16 hours a day. He took his older brother with him one morning to milk the cows, thinking they could get it done in less time. His brother used his thumb to milk (which I guess is a no-no) and bruised the cows teats. When the boss came by and saw what he'd done, he told my dad his brother wouldn't milk any more of his cows. His boss at the nursery told him he knew where he could buy some land pretty cheap and the next thing you know he was building a house. He moved everybody in and he told his parents they could live there as long as they liked. His brother (s) never even offered to help by paying rent.

Shortly after that, my dad started working for the frozen food plant that processed all the produce. He was the general foreman for plant maintenance and so was in a position to offer jobs to family members as they needed them. He hired his older brother as a mechanic and it wasn't long before they started having run-ins. His brother was a union man and my dad was management. He said his brother turned him in to the union on more than one occasion.

His brother eventually bought his own place and moved. In later years, his parents moved into his brother's house (who by then had moved again). My dad said for all the year's they lived in his house, he never charged them a dime, but as soon as they moved into his older brother's house, they had to start paying his brother rent. Needless to say, he and his older brother have never been what you'd call 'real close'.



My dad has always been a responsible one, even as a kid. His mom was blinded in a car accident when they were little and so in addition to the farm chores, most of the housekeeping duties fell on the kids too. One of his jobs was to do the laundry. He was expected to iron everything. One day, he decided it was stupid to iron the shirt tails and so he didn't. The busybody neighbor lady saw what he was doing and made a bee-line over to their house to tell his mother. His mother told him to iron the shirt tails and he refused telling her it didn't make sense when all you did was tuck 'em in. When his dad got home, he got a lickin' for talking back to his mother, but he never did have to iron the shirt tails after that.

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