Queen’s Letter: If I have to come over there…!

Today we have more words from Writers Forum President and Queen Laura Hernandez. With the COVID-19 numbers back on the rise in California, and with the lack of masks we see around town, it looks like this is going to be a longer ride than we hoped. Laura has some pointers for staying active with your writing as we wait it out.

One thing you can do is submit work to post at this blog! I can only post material that I have. If I don’t have it, I can’t post it. The more material I receive, the more regularly I can post, and the more variety we can have. Submission guidelines are always at the bottom of each post. Submissions from non-Writers Forum members will be considered.

Geo.


If I have to come over there…!

Welp, we did it! We passed up all the other states except New York (it’s always a struggle to be 2nd Best to Them, isn’t it?!).  We in CA are the Second Most Infected With Chingona, in the whole country!  And it’s not because of “increased testing.”  It’s because we are Stubborn, Bored and Selfish!  Yay!

Most of the newly infected in Shasta County (we are up to 86 as I write this, yay!) are attributed by contact tracing to a Family Gathering and another Graduation Party!  Yay!  And yes, there are people who infected each other at those Very Necessary Parties. But then they all went to the store. On different days. Your store? My store? My drug store? My liquor store? (This is no time to judge me.)

Wearing masks is not a matter of opinion, thank you Governor, it is a matter of State Mandate. You know, the force of law.

And did you see the young people who have erected card tables and petitions at the grocery stores to recall the governor over MASKS?!  Bless their hearts.

I’m sure it wasn’t any of you who participated in these Very Necessary Parties.  But we are going to have to police ourselves (by example) and exert some peer pressure with a Parental Glare that says, “Don’t Make Me Come Over There!” to those who are not wearing masks. It is the only thing we have.

And I know, I’m tired (and sweaty) trying to tell people to do this. At work, I have a sign, 8 ½ X 11, on yellow paper, in a font that is as big as your face on my door, that says, “You must wear a mask to enter the Law Li-berry.” And STILL there are people who bang in the door without one.  No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service. No shit.

Yes, we were good, we behaved. For a while. And now people are done. I see that. I also see the rate of infection climbing like it hasn’t before. Seven thousand. In. One. Day. Yay.

Please stay the ‘eff at home when you don’t have to get food. Or drugs. Or liquor. (I can see your face, stop it.)

I’m getting good at shopping online for stuff I now know I can’t fetch because there are people without masks in line ahead of me at the freakin’ store. They yell at cashiers because they want to be free to infect.  Did you know Old Navy will take the stuff you ordered online but maybe you have to return for free and you can take your bag to a less-crowded place like Mail Boxes, Etc. instead of the Post Office, to return before 5:00 (except they are closed on Sat/Sun.)?  Home Depot delivers shit right to your door, too (except not that Stump Remover stuff, I guess because of that you-can-light-a-match to accelerate the removal part of the instructions?). You can even get a box of blue-paper disposable masks (30 of them!) delivered right to your door (Amazon, free delivery, Yay!). And yes, wear them outside, too. You are walking right behind someone’s Chingona Cloud of Conversation.

The good news is that we still have a lot of hospital beds available!  Yay!  We might need them. Or not. I don’t have all the information I need. The Redding Record Searchlight is pretty much over this whole pandemic thing, too.  They no longer show a daily count from the health department for free online, like they did every day last week. Over it. And yet, many, many more cases. Go figure. Listen to the radio, like NPR 88.9 or 97.1 for Redding. There’s a California Report everyday at about 9:00 am, that is not just for infection reportage. On Thursdays there is a Selected Shorts program at 8:00-9:00pm where professional actors you’ve heard of, read short stories on random topics in front of live people somewhere. It’s pretty fun!

Try and find something funner to do indoors. Did you try Udemy for writing and editing yet? Do it now. You can play the classes over and over and take notes or just make sock puppets to interact with them! Maybe you thought we’d be out of the woods (I live in the woods, so you know, metaphor) by now and online learning wouldn’t be something we’d have to resort to.  We have to resort to. It’s funner than you think. There’s another $10 sale on now!

I did those and also hired a Content Editor through Reedsy, who gave me a 16-page evaluation for my first novel, (I sent her the whole damn thing!) and an evaluation on my query letter which gets me that much closer to publication!  Yay! I know I‘ve told you this before, but you might be able to hear me now. On Reedsy.com, you can find an editor, evaluate their credentials separately by just Googling their name, and interact online with them to negotiate a price (you make payments to Linked In) to get the kind of professional assessment you need to take your writing to the next professional level.  I love my critique group partners, but we all need experts in the publishing world, too.  There are hundreds of editors for different needs to choose from, and you can evaluate 5 at a time, like an auction you control, to make them jump to be your line or content editor for your very own manuscript! My content editor lives in Ireland (although her business in based in Florida), and worked for one of the Big Five publishing houses before going on her own. She gave me details and Big Picture ways to improve this novel and my others that was specific and understandable.  She is a fan and we will work together to get me published. I love her, get your own.

You know how hard it’s been to concentrate because of all the Pandemic News creeping us out? That’s the part we have to get over. Force yourself to concentrate, like it says on the orange juice carton. (My column, my jokes.) Write something that isn’t about germs, disease and infection. I dare ya.

Buy an exercise course online to keep you in the Fun Zone! If your internet is spotty at home, buy an exercise CD/DVD and have it delivered to your house (Target, Amazon, not Home Depot!)!  Get some extra batteries for your new, portable CD player (you can order that online from Target and they will deliver to your house!! Like magic!). I know, it’s money.  But we are going to have to spend a little in ways we didn’t think we’d need to before…all this. Get a DVD about Yoga!  I hate Yoga. It just forces me to see how neglectful I am with vacuuming.  And dusting. And spider de-webbing.  And how I’ve never liked that blue book… there. But that’s just me (and I can still see your face).  This will also be good prep for PG&EffingE’s planned plug-pulling for fire prevention this summer, too. Be sure to include a mask in your Go Bag in case we need to leave to let firefighters work.

Yes, we’re exhausted. Buck up. Thought the Not-So-Great-Depression was hard? Yep, nope. And it’s not so bad at home. At least there, I don’t have to wear my mask to go to the bathroom down the hall. Like I do at work. Yay.


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events. 8.) Short fiction. 9.) Poetry.

IN MEMORIUM: CHLOE RYAN WINSTON

Chloe Winston signing a book

The Writers Forum Board has learned of the recent passing of our long-time member, Chloe Winston, who would have celebrated her ninetieth birthday this December. Her family indicates she requested no memorial service; however, we are pleased to have this opportunity to honor her memory.

Many of us remember her enthusiasm for life and for writing, and for her generous help in critique groups. Until recently, she attended our regular monthly meetings and sometimes participated as a presenter. Always willing to lend a hand, she volunteered at the Redding Library and at All Saints Episcopal Church. Before moving to Redding from Ashland, she was a regular volunteer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Never one to let age stand in her way, Chloe dedicated the past few years of her writing life to her mystery/espionage series featuring Briana Fraser, a former courier for a US spy agency. Each book took place in a different exotic location, all of them places where Chloe had actually traveled. She enjoyed having the satisfaction of seeing her series published.

Chloe was born on a ranch in eastern Oregon, graduated from Marylhurst University, and earned a master’s degree at Idaho State University. She had lived in Ashland, Oregon, which is featured in her writing, as well as Mexico, and had traveled extensively to fifty-eight countries. As a travel writer, Chloe contributed to several publications including The Los Angeles Times, International Travel News, and Mature Lifestyles. She had been a cruise destination lecturer as well as a high school teacher, counselor, and administrator.

Toward the end of her life, this lovely-hearted person continued to regularly put to use not only her degree in Guidance and Counselling, but also her natural gift in that area, and would counsel people in the residence where she lived and others who were a regular part of her life.

You can remember Chloe by clicking on one of these links, to see her writing legacy.

Chloe’s Facebook author page

Chloe’s Amazon author page

Chloe’s author page with her publisher


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events.

Short Story Contest Entry: Election Day

Silhouette of hand dropping ballot into box

Today we have another entry received for the Writers Forum 2020 Short Story Contest.

Since the contest judges are supposed to be judging the entries without knowing who wrote them, the author’s names will be withheld until after the winner selection. After the winners have been chosen, all authors will be identified, and the top three stories will be re-posted. The contest is only open to Writers Forum members. Click here for the complete contest rules.

There is still plenty of time for Writers Forum members to submit your own short stories. All submissions will be posted to the website and the Facebook page, and will also be considered submissions to the Writers Forum anthology, River’s Edge, to be published at the end of the year.


Election Day

     Stacey stood in the voting booth staring at the names on the ballot in front of her.  She did not like any of them.  She had turned eighteen in March, had graduated from high school in May, and had spent six months attempting to enlighten herself about political issues.  Initially she had favored Senator Bernie Sanders but the super delegates from the Democratic Party had made certain he would not win the nomination.  Super delegates?  She did not understand why a political party would even want or need them.

Stacey had waited in line for nearly an hour to cast her vote, a line which had seemed to grow behind her.  Others were still waiting in the drizzle outside.  She completed the rest of the ballot first and then returned to the choices for President.  Donald Trump had never held a public office of any kind.  Stacey felt he was unqualified.  She could not in good conscience vote for a Republican candidate anyway.  She had learned that since 1970 executive compensation in this country had skyrocketed while wages, when adjusted for inflation, had flatlined.  Stacey believed that the middle class was being hollowed out.  She could not understand why any working person would still support the Republican Party.  A Canadian economist had recently called American capitalism a system of exploitation – the exploitation of labor and resources.  Stacey believed there was some truth in that.

After Bernie, Hillary Clinton had been her second choice until Wikileaks had exposed her a couple weeks earlier.  Hillary had been paid over six hundred thousand dollars to give three speeches to the banking industry.  Throughout the campaign she had adamantly refused to disclose the texts of those speeches, though other candidates had urged her to do so.  Finally, Wikileaks released them.  In those speeches Hillary told the bankers they should be allowed to police themselves and that she thought it was okay for a politician to state one view publicly on an issue but feel differently in private about that same issue.  What?  Stacey’s father had lost his job back in 2008 due to the worldwide recession caused by mortgage fraud.  Police themselves?  Stacey opposed that idea strongly.

Stacey had seen Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party interviewed twice on television and had liked her message.  Though Stacey did not wish to throw her first vote away on a long-shot candidate, she quickly punched a hole in the ballot next to Jill Stein’s name.  She was not thrilled about it but that was her choice.

Stacey exited the Veterans of Foreign Wars building and found her boyfriend Carlos waiting in the parking lot.  He suggested they celebrate their first vote with a cup of hot chocolate and maybe a slice of apple pie.  Stacey did not feel like celebrating but she did not want to dampen Carlos’s sudden burst of patriotism so she agreed.  When they walked into Sammy’s Diner a couple miles down the road, Stacey was surprised to see a few people wearing those bright red Make America Great Again baseball caps.  Stacey could not even begin to understand the support for Trump.  Carlos told one of them that America’s greatness was not in the past, or the present, but in what it can become – repeating a line they had heard on Real Time With Bill Maher.  A guy in a red hat turned around and flipped them the bird on his way out the front door.

They were seated in a booth and a waitress told them the hot chocolate was free if they could produce a stub showing they had voted.  They dug around and each produced one and the waitress laughed out loud.  She had thought they looked too young to vote.  A couple of girls they remembered from school approached their booth and Carlos invited them to sit down for a minute.

“Carlos…  Stacey…  Haven’t seen you two in a long time,” Rebecca, a former classmate, said.  “Did you to just come from the polling station?”

“We did.  How are you doing, Rebecca?” Stacey asked.

“Good, I guess.  You guys remember Abby?”

“Of course.  Did you girls vote tonight too?” Carlos asked.

“Yeah.  Stood in line for close to an hour.  What are you guys doing this year.  Going to college?” Abby asked.

“I am, yes.  But Carlos here is working in the family construction business,” Stacey said.  “How about you two?”

“I’m at the junior college trying to get into the nursing program.  Abby is waitressing and trying to form or join a band,” Rebecca said.

“Really!  How’s that going, Abby?” Carlos asked.

“My parents were folk singers when they first met back in the day and they still have some connections in the industry.  Some scouts and agents are likely to be at the Silver Spoon just south of town on Friday night.  My mom pulled some strings and got me on the list of performers,” Abby said.

“Have you guys ever been in there?” Rebecca asked.

“No, I don’t think I have,” Carlos said.

“Maybe we’ll come and listen to you on Friday,” Stacey said.

Their waitress returned with hot chocolate and apple pie and their friends said their goodbyes.  While they ate Carlos suggested they call and try to get Stacey on that list of performers too.  The last three poems she had shown Carlos were really good and he thought she should recite them publicly.  He dialed the Silver Spoon and after a delay was put in touch with the person handling the list.  Carlos put Stacey on the phone and after some small talk she recited a poem from memory.  Stacey smiled and promised to be there Friday at eight.

“I’ll be damned.  The guy loved the poem I just recited and added me to his list.  He said a prize of two hundred dollars will be paid for the best performance and he confirmed that talent scouts and agents are expected to be in the audience,” Stacey said.

“No shit!  You might win, too,” Carlos said.  “It wouldn’t surprise me a bit.”

When they left the diner and started walking across the parking lot a guy in a red hat approached them ranting and raving about how liberal college students were destroying America.  He took a swing at Carlos when he got close enough.  Carlos ducked under the punch and gave the guy a shove.  The red hat went flying and the guy lost his balance, falling into the side of a parked car, and then to the ground.  He stood up again, lowered his head, and began to charge at Carlos as if to tackle him.  Like a matador Carlos stepped out of the way at the last moment and gave the guy a shove.  His head struck the tailgate of a parked pickup and he fell to the pavement, rolling onto his back.  He did not move.

“He’s out cold and he’s bleeding,” Stacey said after taking a closer look.  “We’d better call 911.”

“No.  I don’t think so.  He’s white.  I’m black.  I’ll be arrested,” Carlos said.

“You were acting in self-defense.  I’m your witness,” Stacey said.

“It won’t matter.  You’re my girlfriend.  You’re biased in the eyes of the law.  Let’s get out of here,” Carlos said.

When they got back to Stacey’s dorm room she turned on the local ten o’clock news for the election results.  The election was being described as too close to call.  The next story was about a dead body that had been found in the parking lot of Sammy’s Diner.  Clyde Andrew Thomasson, aged twenty five, had sustained head injuries and had most likely died from a broken neck.  Anyone with information about the incident was being urged to contact the police department.

Stacey turned off the television and told Carlos he had only been acting in self-defense.  She knew he had never intended to harm anyone.  Carlos began pacing back and forth in front of her, tears beginning to roll down his cheeks.  Neither one of them could believe the guy had died.

“Fuck!  I’m in big trouble now,” Carlos said.

It occurred to Stacey that there may have been security cameras outside the diner.  She told Carlos to take off his jacket and shirt and she gave him an old sweatshirt he had loaned her a couple weeks earlier.  He put it on and decided he had better disappear.  Stacey kissed him once and reminded him that he had not meant to harm or kill anyone.  She told him again that he had acted in self-defense.  After he left, Stacey put his shirt and jacket into a plastic shopping bag and walked across campus to where dumpsters were lined up behind the cafeteria building.  She reached into one and carefully dug a little hole first so her bag would not be visible on top of the heap.  She then covered the bag with other garbage.

She returned to the dormitory a few minutes before eleven when security guards were supposed to lock the doors.  She had not seen anyone.  She prayed that no one had seen her.  When she entered her room again her roommate Ophelia was stretched out on a bed.

“Did you get a chance to vote today, Stacey?” Ophelia asked.

“Of course.  After months of preparation I wasn’t going to miss this.  How about you?”

“Yeah, I did too.  Voted for Secretary Clinton even though Wikileaks burned her a new one a couple weeks ago,” Ophelia said.

“Too bad Obama couldn’t run for another term,” Stacey said.

“It is, too.  For the past eight years it’s felt like we had a friend in the white house.”

Stacey’s cell phone chirped with a call from Carlos and she answered it.  She went into the small bathroom for some privacy and to clean up after handling the garbage.  Carlos told her of his half-baked plan to call Sammy’s Diner the next morning and impersonate a security company salesman.  If they were not interested in the product, it probably meant they already had cameras in use.  If they were interested and allowed him to set a sales appointment, it most likely meant they did not already have security cameras in that parking lot.  If the result of his call was inconclusive he might have to cruise through the parking lot again and take another look.  But he did not want to risk being recognized if he could help it.

Stacey told him to be careful and filled him in on her trip to the dumpsters.  Carlos said he had never cared much for that jacket anyway.  Stacey urged him to consider borrowing someone else’s car and wearing a disguise of some kind if he returned to the scene.  Carlos thanked her for the suggestion… told her he loved her… and hung up.  Stacey could hear him sobbing between his last words.  She loved a man who cried.

The next morning they all learned that, by the thinnest of margins, Donald Trump had won in the Electoral College and would be the next president.  There was shock and disbelief on the college campus.  Hillary had won the popular vote by close to three million but that did not matter.  Ophelia reminded Stacey that the Electoral College had produced unjust results before.  In the very beginning the policy had been to severely restrict the right to vote.  Only white males who owned property were permitted to do so.  At least eight times in our nation’s history the candidate who won in the Electoral College had not won the popular vote.  Thomas Jefferson, Rutherford B. Hayes, John Kennedy, George W. Bush, and now Donald Trump were among them.  Stacey asked Ophelia how she knew all this.  She was Native American and had grown up protesting against oil pipelines on a reservation in South Dakota.  Studying America’s shortcomings was a passion for her.

At lunch in the school cafeteria that day an informal discussion took place about the Electoral College.  No one was able to defend it.  What were our founding fathers thinking (or drinking) when they had come up with that gem?  In over two centuries why had it not been dissolved?  It had clearly subverted the will of the people on multiple occasions.  The students all agreed that the Electoral College was a relic from the past, from the days when the outcomes of elections were decided in smoke-filled rooms by a select, corrupt few.

Stacey had found inspiration.  A poem about American injustice?  Why the hell not.  You did not have to look far to see it.  She was dating a great guy who happened to be African American and her roommate was Native American.  The consequences of racial discrimination were all around her.  Growing up white in the suburbs Stacey had rarely even seen a police car.

After dinner that night Stacey took a walk by herself and called Carlos.  He said he had scrapped the idea of impersonating a salesman out of fear that a suspicious call might be traced back to him.  His uncle had been awarded a contract for a construction job in a neighboring state and he was thinking about asking if he could join that crew.  It would get him out of town for a few months.  Stacey told him he might be overreacting but she understood.  He promised to call her as soon as he knew more.  Carlos suggested that maybe they both should stay clear of Sammy’s Diner.  Stacey agreed.

They confirmed their plan to patronize the Silver Spoon on Friday night and Carlos said he would come and get her at about seven.  Patronize, good word, Carlos told her.  They also talked about how shocked they were that Trump had won the election.  It was a little frightening to think about what a Trump presidency might look like.

Stacey was approaching the school library and she went inside after their phone call had ended.  She pulled a small notebook and pen from her purse and sat down in a remote corner surrounded by bookshelves.  A few phrases morphed into a couple lines and before long she had the first stanza of a new poem.

She tried to envision what America could become.


Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Queen’s Letter: My Country is on Fire

Writers Forum President and Queen Laura Hernandez submitted a short piece on supporting the protests in the middle of COVID-19 on the day the one demonstration was to assemble in the Kohl’s parking lot. Before I could get it posted, that plan had been postponed. And then merely changed locations. And then another one added.

It was a chaotic weekend, and between the breaking events chaos and my day job, it didn’t get posted right away, and events quickly moved past the content of most of Laura’s message .

Because this seems to be an ongoing event, we decided to post the still-relevant parts of her piece.

We welcome any piece submitted by members that helps us navigate these difficult times. That’s what writers do. See below for submission guidelines.


My Country is on Fire

For many of us, it’s too dangerous to be in a public gathering right now. Chingona.
 
There are still ways for you to be safe and supportive. Yup, it’s money where your mouth is.

 

As protests continue across the country, police continue to make arrests of those exercising their constitutional rights to fight injustice. Here are a few places you can donate to bail funds to support protestors who have been arrested:

Make it count.
Because Black Lives Matter and Justice for All must be made real.

Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at writersforumeditor@gmail.com . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events.


Short Story Contest Entry: DEPRESSION REFUGEES

Today we have another entry received for the Writers Forum 2020 Short Story Contest.

Since the contest judges are supposed to be judging the entries without knowing who wrote them, the author’s names will be withheld until after the winner selection. After the winners have been chosen, all authors will be identified, and the top three stories will be re-posted. The contest is only open to Writers Forum members. Click here for the complete contest rules.


Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

 

DEPRESSION REFUGEES

 

Refugees are migrating world wide.

History of the last depression made hopelessness a common companion. Homes were lost with no place to go; the economic crisis affected every one. Hope offered possibilities in the West. Mom and Dad sat in the front seat and sang, harmonizing their voices. I rode in the back seat with my brother and two sisters fighting among ourselves, until Dad stopped and put us out just before dark and drove off. We rounded the curve screaming; they were a few feet away out of sight waiting. It created instant peace. We were going to California where oranges grow and there were plenty of jobs.

The highway had many old rusty farm trucks and old vehicles piled high with wash tubs and bedsteads; sometimes people rode on top. After a few days of passing people pumping up tires with what looked like a bicycle tire pump, we waved to them as we went by.  They waved to us when we were broke down.

Sometimes early in the day, we pulled off the highway at a camping place near water. The men took out their rifles and went hunting for rabbits and pheasants. The women cooked and washed laundry in a tub with a rub board and dried the wash on bushes. Strangers made friends along the way by stopping to help wire the broken mechanical parts to get a few more miles out of it. It was said “a Model A could be repaired with wire and a pair of pliers”. The men bent over motors to try and find why it wouldn’t start and talked about their farm horses that were dependable…tears were hidden.

We left town before Dad could be put in jail. He left us sitting in the car as he filled a sack of groceries while Mom was walking the baby to keep him from crying. Dad walked out through the door with a bell on it, without paying. Watching through the back seat window, the clerk tried to stop Dad, who grabbed a can of pork and beans and threw it at him. The police skidded around the corner and bumped the baby; his scream stopped everything. Mom grabbed him, running hysterically to the car. The baby wasn’t hurt, just scared. The clerk was wiping his head, Dad put the groceries in the back seat while the police were  trying to calm everyone while checking the police car for blood or damages. I was still looking through the back window as we drove away.  A farmer may have found his cow was short on milk that night; we had gravy with liver from the grocery store and biscuits for supper. Dad called Mom’s biscuits “Cat Heads”.

The desert was difficult. We were tired, gas stations were far apart, our radiator was demanding water. Things not tied down tight blew off, landing on cactus full of thorns. Mom and Dad didn’t sing anymore. The Yuma bridge we expected to be magnificent was a little metal disappointment. The words at the end of the bridge read “California”, there were many vehicles pulled off the road with lots of activity. I understood they didn’t want the refugees; there was no work. I heard Dad and Mom talk about some families who shared the same money to show the authorities they had enough to travel on. Worse, there were no orange trees.

Someone told someone else there were signs along the road up the highway: “Cotton Pickers Wanted”, depression refugees filled up the tents. We moved into a tent with a wooden floor. It smelled like oil, it was wonderfully warm with faucets nearby. The tents were in long rows with community bathrooms. The tents had little windows with canvas covers and cords to tie them up for air. Early mornings the cold fog wrapped around us. Mom and Dad pulled cotton out of its sharp fingers and stuffed it in a sack. We traveled from one crop to the next, year to year. There was always something that needed harvesting, we followed the seasons.

Then war came. Convoys moved down the coast highway at night, headlights were covered. Young men stood on military vehicles with big guns pointed toward the sky; we could hear planes overhead. Our vocabulary included the word “japs”. Our tent was set up next to the fence of prisoners of war in an apple orchard.  A new vineyard needed workers to cut grapes and place bunches on paper to dry for raisins. Dad had health problems from breathing dust from the dust bowl. Mom was weary.

Dad had no ration card for a car called a Hupmobil. He put kerosene in it and the smoke brought the traffic to a serious stop all the way to Oakland; he pulled the car out of town by night. School was voluntary, we learned to read from Burma Shave signs along the highway and how to add what was owed from how much we earned. A hamper of peas had to weigh thirty two pounds; we received a fifty cent piece and one dime per hamper. We handed it to Mom and she dropped it in a sock. We went back and began another basket as DDT drifted in the air when we disturbed the plants to find the hidden peas.

Driving up two lane highway 99 we traveled very slow; traffic backed up behind was as far as you could see. A policeman on a motorcycle pulled up to Dad’s window and shouted “rev ‘er up or get off the road!” The speedometer moved to twenty eight. Looking out my window a tire was rolling along with us, the bump of the wheel hitting the highway forced us to pull off. There were big trees with a camping place near a pond.  King Louie and his Gypsy Band greeted us with an invitation. They were preparing for a wedding. Dad built trailers for King Louies’ Caravan. That evening I hid in the car; I thought they stole little children. They were gone the next morning but Mom and Dad whispered  about burying a baby there. I overheard them but never told them. Every year in the fall as we passed that place on the way to gather nuts, olives, or apples, I looked at the late summer grass where the Gypsy baby was sleeping; I threw kisses.

Dad must have passed the trading gene to my brother. He traded his bicycle for a little goat then traded that for a fighting rooster. He may have been eight or ten, keeping company with people who practiced cock fighting. Dad felt we needed to move before he got put in the reform school. He had to leave his rooster behind, it had claws. I had serious grudges against my brother. One Christmas I got a china doll, my brother got a cowboy holster, guns, and a hatchet. I carried around a headless doll.

We loved camp fires. The stars were so close Dad would point out the Big Dipper, the North Star, and The Milky Way. The next night he would ask us to point them out. He said “you will never get lost if you know the stars”. Once I got lost in Yuma’s one street, the neon lights were all on and I couldn’t find the stars. Dad delivered another baby.

Most of California Oranges were our front yard as was every vegetable and fruit and nuts and olives and berries and hops and peaches, oranges and strawberries. Occasionally, Dad stopped and left the fields and showed us how to build kites, including large homemade box kites one could hardly hold on with both hands that flew over the sea.

On our way to pick potatoes we drove over miles of migrating black trantulas all moving in the same direction. The Gypsies were already gathering potatoes, their familiar smiles greeted us. The beautiful women worked in pretty dresses with jewelry on both arms that jingled like music.

We had no place, but migrating refugees were always welcome to gather crops. Our car quit in New Mexico; so did Mom and Dad.

Desert winds blew hot making our lips crack and bleed. Our eyes were full of blowing sand. We were crammed in the open rumble seat, my brother, our little sister, and I looking through the back window. In the front seat was a man driving, his very pregnant wife, and my father. It was Dad’s way of getting to Oregon from New Mexico. Dad talked the young couple into going to Oregon promising work. Dad furnished the gas, they furnished the transportation. A disagreement occurred over a can of peaches. The pregnant woman wanted them. We wanted them. It developed into a full fledged hostile standoff. The woman cried to go home. The intense desert heat moved my dad to buy us a soda. This was so rare to spend money on orange soda but it helped us yield the peaches. Miles across the desert and mountains we traveled with the distressed woman. Anger erupted in Boise. We slept in the park on the ground that night. While we slept, they drove off and left us.

Opening my eyes the next morning, Dad was sitting with his back against a tree waiting for us to wake up. Gathering up our canvas water bag they had thrown out, we shook out our coats we had slept on and started walking, looking for food. The local charity at first refused us. Dad argued and argued and insisted we had to eat. At length we were given some scraps of paper and sent to a place where they fed us pancakes. I refused to look at anyone; to feel people’s disapproval, tears came easy.

No one knew how we came to be in that situation. That last winter Dad had fallen off a roof where he had been working. His injuries were a long time healing, adding distress to my parent’s marriage that had been unraveling for some time; it came unglued. Where we find ourselves now is better than before, where I watched my Dad caress the trigger on his twenty two rifle, as it lay across his arm resting on the car window pointed at the shadows behind the curtains.

Back out on the street walking to nowhere full of pancakes and desperation, Dad decided we would ride a freight train to Oregon. This delicate skill he had learned many years ago during his  orphaned youth; he roamed the country looking for work. We walked and walked until we found train tracks. It was a train yard; there were many sets of tracks. Us kids hid in the bushes waiting as Dad scouted for the railroad police known as the Bull, who watches for people like us. We caught an empty refrigeration car and rode in the top compartment; the part where ice is kept .  We lifted the hatch, scrunched up and folded inside, the hatch closed. Since we all couldn’t get in, my brother and dad slid in the other compartment at the other end of the box car. All day we rolled and bounced, we pitched and bumped and slammed, at some distant time we quit moving, I thought we were in Oregon. Dad opened the hatch. We crawled out and ran down the ladder and went to use the bushes. We were only a few feet away from where we began. The car had been moved to the next set of  tracks over. We were beat up with dirt, frustration, and emotional pain mostly because we were asked to choose who we wanted to go with: Mom or Dad. We couldn’t choose.

One couldn’t be unhappy while in the company of my Dad. It is possible to be in distress yet the possibilities were many in his mind. We only had to grab hold of them. Unhealthy worry was not to be entertained. Dad always carried a piece of soap, a fine tooth comb, a pocket knife, and a Buckeye: a round shiny brown seed about the size of a fifty cent piece was to stave off rheumatism. We went to the river to bathe using the piece of soap that made our hair all sticky and gluey in the cold water. Greasy black soot rimmed our eyes; it just smeared around. The thought of delicious pancakes was too much not to pursue. We slept in the Park.

Early next morning we caught a freight train….no breakfast. I was so glad not to go back to those people. The world flew past, the sky was so clean, the sage brush smelled so fresh, Dad would point out the lavenders and grays and shades of blue in the distant mountains. He praised the clean air and taste of sweet water. He mentioned that the sun was in the wrong place. I didn’t know what he meant.

The train slowly huffed and puffed to a stop under a tower with a spout hanging over the engine for water. We jumped off and hid in the brush. We were at a section hands shack. After the train pulled out of sight we went up to the kitchen and asked for food. Dignity, respect and kindness, with large delicious sandwiches were served with gracious smiles. We had taken the wrong train; it was going east; we wanted to go west.

We filled our water bag and started down the road toward the highway. Dad tried to teach us not to put our mouth on the spout but to trickle the water into our throat but we lost most of the water practicing. It was a long hot gravel road with the crunching sound of each step. We took turns carrying the dry water bag wishing we had been more careful with the precious water. At evening it felt good to feel our feet touch the hardtop. There were too many of us as we thumbed and waited, hoping each car would stop and pick us up; no one did. Finally everyone hid in the brush. I stood out on the road alone. The very next car stopped; everyone came running out to climb in but it zoomed away.

As the evening shadows crept across the brush and cold high desert air brought the night, the stars began to appear. I searched the sky for the familiar Milky Way. Moving across the landscape the mountains never change. Some stars I couldn’t always find, but the Milky Way was always there. It was warm and comforting to feel its presence; it was always with us. Standing on the road side scanning the starry heavens, restrained anger seeped out, peace replaced fears.

An old farm truck with weak headlights stopped, all ran fast and laid claim to a ride into town. Dad rode in the front with the farmer. We slept among bales of hay all the way into town. We visited pancakes again; I accepted pancakes. A bold spirit emerged when I met probing disrespectful eyes. I lost my inferior feelings that now flirted with defiance. The strength that came from inside was as though an iron rod had been inserted in my mind. This new power, this cousin to rebelliousness gave me courage with no war within. After we ate, the park lawn felt good, sleep was sweet.

Just before light the next morning we climbed over into the deep sides of an empty ore car that is shaped like a bathtub; we settle in the bottom and sit quietly. No one has any reason to check it for passengers, no one in their right mind would use it. As the engine gathers speed it gets too bumpy to sit, we try standing up as it rumbles and sways. The wind blew loose mine tailings in our eyes. It’s impossible to balance by holding our hands against the sides; it is too wide. We are not able to see, breathing thick dirt that swirled around us. We all tried to hold each other up in a storm of debris. We bury our faces in each other’s arms. After some time the engine began to slow down, these are steep mountains, slower and slower, it barely moves. We scramble over the sides down the ladder and run along sides and select an empty boxcar. There are others that travel too, who my father called “Bindlestiffs”. Dad was particular about our own private accommodations as evening descends; our train again slows to a crawl as we pass miles and miles of bales of alfalfa. I jump off to help Dad tear apart the bales and throw armloads through the boxcar door. These clean sweet bundles make a good place to sleep. We will cover up for warmth with them. Dad jumps back up inside. Running along side I stumble trying to catch the ladder; he grabs me just as I was about to fall under the wheels.

Next morning we could see flat cars loaded with government trailers, they were for victims of a flood. We climbed inside one of them; it was comfortable in the tiny kitchen looking out at people on the highway as we moved along. In the cars sat moms and dads. My mom and dad used to sit in the front seat and sing together, blending their voices. I tried to remember the words to the song, “on a hill far away” was all I could remember. I hummed the first few bars of melody under my breath.

Recovered confidence made our tomorrows fearless. The train slowed, barely moving, our destination came in sight. We never met the railroad Bull. Our worst problem was trying to scrub the soot out of our hair and from around our eyes as we washed in a beautiful river in Oregon, the starry Milky Way lives here too. Desperation still moves Migrant Refugees.

 


 

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