By Kaelin A. Swift
7th Grade, San Bernardino County
Home Choice/Washington Alternative - Pamela Eshelman, Teacher
The car had stopped, Rosa realized, as she slowly sat up. She rubbed her eyes and yawned, peering out the window as she did so. They had stopped on the side of a road overlooking a valley. Below she could see green grass and miniature fields in neat rows. Frowning, she turned her head to look at her grandmother.
"Abuela," she asked, "what's happening?" Her abuela had been knitting but now she stopped.
"I don't know, Rosa," she said. "Maybe something is wrong."
"The car has stopped," Rosa's mother said from the front seat, "and we can't get it to start again." Grumbling, her father got out of the car and lifted up the front hood.
"This could take a while," he said.
"Well in that case," said abuela, "I think I'll go and get some air," and she slipped out, closing the door firmly behind her.
"I'll go too, mama," Rosa said and she followed her abuela to the side of the road. When she reached her side, she was looking down into the valley with an odd expression on her face.
"What is it, abuela?" Rosa asked.
"Oh Rosa, it's nothing. I'm just remembering."
"Remembering what?" asked Rosa.
"I was remembering how things were when I was a girl. When I was ten we moved from the ranch we worked on in Mexico to a farm in California. It wasn't very far from here. We lived with many other families there in the camp. The grownups all picked or packed crops. Peaches, nectarines, grapes, asparagus, potatoes… there were many of them. The produce went to feed people not only in California, but all over the country and the world. I watched my little brothers, cooked and did camp chores until I was thirteen and then I worked in the packinghouses with the women.
"That sounds like a lot of hard work, abuela," Rosa said, eyes wide.
"It was hard," abuela said. "This was in the 1930's and the country was in the middle of the Great Depression. Many people were very poor. Everyone at camp was, and with so many people jobless, we were glad to have our jobs. We all shared what we had to get used to our new life. When I started school, I had to learn English. That was such a struggle for me."
"Oh, abuela," Rosa said softly.
Abuela smiled at her granddaughter's amazement. "I have many good memories of that time, she said. We made many friends at camp. We were a community whose life circled around the crops. Every Saturday night in the summer we would have a fiesta. I have many memories of those fiestas. And the peaches, oh how I remember eating peaches with other girls in the camp. We would bite into them and the juice would dribble down our chins. But that was so long ago…" Abuela made a funny sort of sound that was between a laugh and a sob.
Rosa stared at abuela. To her, only eight years old, abuela was very old. She could not imagine abuela as a girl, even one that was older than her, with peach juice running down her chin. No, Rosa thought, abuela is too old for her to ever have done that. But abuela was talking again, interrupting Rosa's thoughts.
"Oh yes, we had our rough times, but looking back I wouldn't trade any part of it. When your life circles around the crops, you feel an affinity with the earth. It's powerful. This one little part of California, the Central Valley, produces much of the produce for millions of people. Central California is an essential part of the nation's agricultural production"
Rosa looked out over the fields in the valley thinking about all of what her abuela had said. It had been a hot afternoon, but now in the early evening, the air had a balmy feel to it. Even though it was quite warm, Rosa shivered, not knowing why. Behind her, she heard the car start up.
"Mama, Rosa," called her mother," come on. We've got it working." Abuela turned away from the valley and made her way to the car. Rosa followed her, but not before turning to look at the fields below once more.