Sunday, May 12, 2013
Happy Mother's Day - 2013: A Tribute to Hard-Working Latina Mothers
As I've frequently written, every summer from the time I was 6 until I was 12, we went up to the Traverse City area to pick Cherries. There are numerous Farms across Michigan. Regardless of what the right wing believes, most ALL of us were American Citizens. 95 - 99 percent of us were Latino. Occasionally, there was a white family, but the ones I saw over the years never stayed an entire season.
Each farm housed about a dozen families. Each family was housed in one bedroom garage apartments. Electricity was provided. They were furnished with bunk-beds, a gas stove and an icebox. There was a community outhouse and showers. The housing was very similar to what was seen on the TV show M.A.S.H.
Our family usually had 5 kids and Mom working each year. My Dad stayed working at the Factory and my oldest brother and sister were in the Army and Air Force. So for the first few years, it was my next oldest two brothers, my older sister, my brother that was just 3 years older than me, my mom and me. My younger brother and sister were babies and my youngest sister wasn't born until 2 years later. We usually had one older woman (an Abuelita) who took care of the babies for all of the working families.
Every morning, Mom woke us up at 6:00 am. However, she herself always woke up an hour earlier so she could prepare our breakfasts and make our lunches. Mom was a great cook. For breakfast, she often made homemade breakfast cake and Mexican Hot Chocolate. The hot chocolate was always delicious. It was a mixture of Hershey's cocoa, milk and a stick of cinnamon. I still remember the taste. For lunch, she made us burritos of bean, meat or egg. She always made her tortillas and beans from scratch. She packed them in a picnic basket with plenty of water and made Kool-Aid for our lunch drink.
Then, we left for work and arrived in the Cherry fields just before seven am. The owner assigned each of the families two long rows of Cherry Trees. My mom assigned my older sister a ladder and the older boys the bottom half of the trees, then they moved to the ladders when they finished the bottom. My brother and I, being younger, were selected to climb the trees and pick the middle and very top of the trees. My mother picked the bottom and supervised the entire operation. She trained us how to carefully pick the cherries, making sure to keep the stems on the cherries while not bruising the fruit. She also encouraged the older boys to race and would name a champion for the most lugs picked. We each were assigned our own large buckets with a back harness across our backs. We filled our buckets about 3/4 full and them poured them into wooden lugs.
Mom had us line up the lugs around every 5th tree in each row. We then stacked the lugs. That way, the owner would come by and pick up the lugs and load them on a low, flat bed trailer which was attached to a farm-tractor. When the lugs were collected, the owner gave our Mom a ticket for each lug. She was paid 50 cents a ticket.
We worked 7am - 6pm, Monday through Friday and from 7am to Noon on Saturday. We often went swimming in the evening at Lake Leelanau. There was a special area reserved for the "Mexicans" separate from the local swimmers. It didn't matter to us. We had fun swimming together, then playing games until dusk.
Our family picked about 100 lugs a day. By the end of the week, Mom had about 550 tickets = $275.
Every Saturday afternoon, we went to the local, little town. My mom shopped for groceries and usually spent about $50 a week.
We each earned an allowance. Each one of us received our weekly pay. The older boys received about $35. My sister about $25. My brother received 10 and I received 5. While mom went shopping, each of us spent part of our weekly allowance on sodas or going to the movies. What ever my mom had left over, she saved to give to my Dad when he came up to visit every other weekend.
Each Saturday evening in the farm camp, we usually played records. Everyone loved rock and roll or Mexican music. We laughed, sang and danced until about 11. Then, our mothers rushed us off to bed. We couldn't stay up too late because we all went to church on Sunday morning. We were ALL Catholic. The local church reserved a special Mass in Spanish for all of the workers. We went to Mass, prayed, all as Family. After Mass, our mothers all made us a nice Sunday dinner. It was always special. This was the one day we had a big Chicken dinner. Afterwards, the children all played in the big farmyard. I loved playing Tag, or using a cardboard to slide down a nearby hill. Sometimes we played softball, soccer or frozen tag.
I always thought these summers were so much fun. We were all poor, hard working families, who loved our parents and knew how important it was to work hard and look out for one another. Our Mothers taught us this. We ALL believed the way to achieve the American Dream was in honoring God, Family and having a good work ethic.