I had a love hate relationship with summers. I loved the fact that we were no longer in school but I knew that on the very first day of summer I’d be getting up at the crack of dawn put my long sleeve button up shirt and head out to the cotton fields, sugar beet fields or to plant onions. Something I’d been doing since I could remember.
We initially went to the fields with my parents because we didn’t have a babysitter so my sister and I went along and sat in the hot car while my parents worked. I hated sitting around doing nothing so when I was about 8 years old they cut a hoe in half and I started the first of many summers working in the fields.
I didn’t mind the hard work, long hours, 100+ degree heat, the wind, the walking up and down rows of cotton at all. It actually felt good. It seemed like my body was made for it. I guess coming from a long line of campesinos from the heartland of Zacatecas and Durango it seemed like my body was actually made for this type of work.
What I hated were the cold mornings. When the dew glistened upon the sugar beet it could only mean one thing – the rows were wet! So we’d get out our black plastic trash bags and tie them up around our waist and drape them down to cover our ankles. This takes care of the dew that makes your pants wet as you brush up on the sugar beet plants walking up and down the rows, which is miserable because when you combine cold mornings with wet drenched pants, it makes for a long day.
Now the mud in the middle of the rows is another story. You can’t do much about that and I’d see many people fall on their face as they slipped and slid with every step for hours and for miles.
It was hard work but I never really thought much about it since everybody I knew was also out working the fields in the summers. I mean most of my friends and their parents were working alongside with us. I didn’t question it. I just did it.
This is where my work ethic started. My goal was as a kid to beat the adults and outwork them and still maintain a good attitude so I always acted like the 100+ degree heat was no big thing. I loved it when the contratistas, they’re the ones who got us our field work, asked my mother if I’d work with them because they’d rather have this 14 year old kid instead of a grown man.
One thing I did hate was planting onions. I hated it because it was hard and no matter how hard you work, as a kid, you really can’t beat adults at this game because you have to drag a huge sack of onions with you the entire time. So imagine a 50 lb. sack of onions tied to your belt and being dragged behind you every step you take. You’d take out one onion grab it with your index and middle finger and push it into the hard cold ground at least 5 inches deep, 6 inches apart and repeat this for 8-10 hours for miles and miles at a time. The skin peels off your middle and index finger. Most people put duct tape on it but it didn’t help much. So yeah I really hated planting onions!
So those were my summers and my love hate relationship with them. That’s the life when you grow up as an immigrant kid in small town West Texas.
But before you go, let me share with you an observation. I noticed that in those “miserable” conditions there were both happy people and bitter people. I couldn’t help but notice that somehow the same people found a reason to be happy, shared stories, jokes and offered advice as we all walked up and down the rows together and the bitter people remained reclusive and resented working in such extreme conditions. So, if I can find a life lesson in there somewhere then it’s worth all those summers without Disneyland.