Everyone worked around my home on a South Texas farm near the Mexican border. I helped Mother in the house. My brothers helped Daddy with the stock and crops. And laborers worked the fields.
My playmates were children of those Mexican laborers. Language never hindered playing la casa, making mud pies, or rocking los bebés. Frijoles and tamales served from stewpots over open fires tasted delicioso in either language. I learned outside their homes a broom works great on hardened soil.
Daddy paid workers on Saturdays, some by the hour, others by production. Lining up, they extended their hands, and he laid cash across their open palms. They checked the figures they had scribbled on paper scraps, trusting el patrón to correct discrepancies. Humble, grateful people, they showed respect.
Daddy verified immigration paperwork for those whom he housed. Others lived in the shadows, arriving around sunup and disappearing before sundown. Each evening a car or truck would rattle alongside the field, and the shadow worker would slip inside. Then the vehicle would clatter toward the horizon. And returned another day.
Occasionally, an alarm shouted in Spanish would sound across the field.
Dropping his cotton sack, a worker would dash toward the cotton trailer in the turn row. Like hounds burrowing under a house, he and a compadre would leap over the trailer’s sides and dig a hole in the freshly picked cotton. The first crawled in, and the other covered him.
The immigration officer making his rounds would walk into the field and occasionally stomp around inside the trailer, searching for man-sized lumps. I never witnessed the discovery of a shadow worker, but I heard about them on other farms. Worst of all, I heard about tragedies. With very little oxygen between tightly packed fluffs of cotton, a man could suffocate and occasionally would. I wondered what would lead a man to take such chances and how my law-abiding, God-loving father justified his complicity. So, I asked, and he answered, “Desperation, sugar. All they want is work. A man wants to provide for his family wherever or however he can. I can’t turn them away.”
Sounded like work was a gift, my ten-year-old brain asked itself.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Genesis 2:15
Therefore, not only in “the beginning,” but on our farm in 1956, a man’s strength to work was God’s gift. The opportunity to work was Daddy’s gift to the men. The fruit of each man’s labor was the gift he sent home each week and the fulfillment of his need to provide for his family.
At Christmas we enjoyed preparing bushel baskets of meats, fruits and vegetables, candy and nuts, and toys for each family. I wondered about those who stayed around for a single day. Would their children find fruits, nuts, or even a piece of candy on Christmas morning?
Answers evaded me then—-as they do now
But as a writer in my eighth decade of life, one truth I hold onto is that the strength for each day of writing and less pain in my arthritic hands and back are gifts from God. Each opportunity to write is an opportunity not only to entertain but to inspire readers to seek God in their everyday lives. Each word, unique turn of a phrase, or plot idea . . . is my gift to Him.
Protecting our safety is a far more complicated endeavor in 2021 than it was in 1956. Threats arise today like none presented five decades ago, but work is still a gift. God wired it into our DNA. Come to think of it, the ideas for A Christmas Tale for Little Women and a subsequent novel yet to be released—one set in the southern tip of Texas, a story including a loving, destitute man who wants only to provide for his family—are gifts.
Those diligent workers of 1956 and other years deserve a story that honors them. My gift to them and to Him is A Christmas Tale for Little Women.
Thank you, Lord.