I was more prepared today with the stuff I picked up on Monday, a bandanna to fashion as a sweat band to keep the sweat from stinging my eyes and putting Gatorade in the pop cooler. The men drink soft drinks in the late morning but I stay away from it and have stuck to water until I remembered to bring the Gatorade that I bought Monday.
By 10:00 AM, the one they call Nino was feeling ill and took an extra water break and I notice another man who’s nicknamed “Chemo” also left the field and went to the water coolers.
I had heard yesterday about men quitting on other farms because of the heat. I felt uncomfortable because of the sun feeling like a flamethrower on my back and for the condition of this field.
There was a lot of “Kelite” on the ends and so for the first and last 100 feet you had to be bent over between the rows, deprived of any possible breeze smoldering in the hot sand that you dumped on your feet when you uprooted the Kelite.
I remembered doing this job in my farmworker past and settled into my spread eagle, jackknifed but straight back to pull the weeds. I did that job first before working my way back down the row to top and sucker.
By the time we made a round and a half we took a water break at the far end of the field. The men looked beat, breathing with their mouths open with teeth showing and their shirts drenched in sweat.
I thought to myself that this is what happens to old guys when they do this type of work. I happened to catch a glimpse of myself in the pick-up rear-view mirror as I walked around to put away my Styrofoam water cup, and I looked the same!
These men are athletes in every sense of the word. They’re tough and rugged with great stamina. Most of the men in this group have been working together for some years now so there is a lot of camaraderie. They help each other finish their rows together so they can all take water breaks around the same time.
When the rows are especially long, they help the guy next to them to keep up with the group in the same part of the field. This adds to the company of tales, songs, and kidding that is constantly humming and makes the day bearable. It’s like a team and the labor camp that we go back to every day resembles a locker room/barracks, merged into one.
The farmer came by at noon again with lunch and ate with us. We ate at the far end of the field, next to a pine tree forest. The pines gave us a pleasant lunch break site. The shade and the occasional breeze were refreshing.
I asked the farmer various questions about the tobacco industry in appropriate pauses between his joking with the men. He was quite forthcoming and honest with facts that I stored into my RJ Reynolds information bank.
Speaking of RJ Reynolds, I realized that they were making me feel like a fugitive. If they’re looking for me, what are they going to do with me when they find me? They could just pick up the phone and call me.
After the short lunch break, we tore into the next rows only to be blunted by the sapping heat within the hour. The singing stopped and for once it was almost quiet. We straggled to finish the last rows of the field and loaded up to go to the next field.
Again, the short drive revived us and the men kidded themselves about not falling on our faces by not finishing the job and end up like those guys we heard about yesterday that only wanted to work half days. “They must think they’re bankers, you know, the rich and leisure types that make everybody else do the work.”
Around 4:00 PM, a cloud cover refreshed us, accompanied by a nice breeze. It was still hot as the farmer had told us at noon that the heat index was around 97 for the day. We were able to finish early, about 5:20PM. I personally was relieved.
This evening, Caballo and I sat and read scripture together. He has a King James Version bilingual Bible which is not my favorite but it is good as any for Bible study and for learning English, which all the men are interested in.
I promised “Chemo” I would get him one of those bibles as he keeps asking me what the English words are for any number of things during the day. He made me recite the entire alphabet slowly so he could repeat the letters after me. They were telling me how great it would be if I stayed with them longer so I could give them English classes.
In my farmwork background, the third day has always been the make it or break it day. I’m hoping my body remembers that rule tomorrow.
Call to the Fields Part V
Call to the Fields Part IV
Call to the Fields Part III
Call to the Fields Part II
Call to the Fields