Picking Grapes and Rolling Trays: Life as a migrant in Central California #1 – Tools of the trade – An empty milk gallon

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Picking Grapes and Rolling Trays

Tools of the Trade:

*hooked knife – el cuchillo
*small tub – la bandeja
*handerkerchief – el pañuelo
*paper trays – el papel
*empty milk gallon – el galón
*lots of burritos made fresh this morning – “el lonche”
*a strong back – una espalda fuerte
*strong arms – brazos fuertes
*willingness to get dirty and remain dirty – no te molesta ensuciarte y permanecer cubierto de polvo
*ability to breath dust and afits all day – la habilidad de respirar polvo y bichos todo el día
*a herculean spirit – un espíritu hercúleo
*indestructible knees – rodillas indestruibles


You might be wondering why an empty milk gallon is on the list. Well, when you clean it out it makes the perfect watering jug. Fill it with cold water and leave it amongst the vines so that it remains cool and you have drinkable water nearby all the time.

When my brothers and I were young the watering jug became a way out; it was the way that we would take a short break, and depending on our conscious maybe a longer break, from work that melted your knees and broke your back. You see, in the middle of August and at the beginning of September the temperature in the Central San Joaquin Valley of California can reach 110 Fahrenheit (roughly 44/45 Celsius) and stay that way for most of the day. This is the time of year that the picking of grapes occurs. In order to dry grapes naturally, you need weather conditions that can not only make raisins out of grapes but of men as well.

Working in these conditions survival depends on you staying hydrated; we were literally drinking gallons of water every day. When the gallon of water was empty my mother would yell from down the row, “Agua, ¿Quién va por el agua?” Usually the closest of us three boys would go and get the water, the other two accepted it and waited for the next time that the milk gallon would be empty. We continued to pick grapes while the fortunate brother went to refill the empty gallon with water. If we were lucky and our brother felt like working that day then we would have water within minutes. If however, the brother that went for water decided to talk to the Ramirez family picking in the next row over, or have a conversation with the son of the farmer that owned the vineyards, or do any of any numbers of things to extend the time that he was out of the row and not picking grapes then this 10 minute task would take a while.

A Vineyard could be several acres and composed of rows upon rows upon rows of vines.

We looked down the ½ mile long vineyard row to see if our brother was on his way back with the water. This did not speed my brother up but instead made time go by even slower.

My older brother got back and calmly and coolly said,

–“ Ama, no había water so tuve que esperar until el patrón brought more.

== “Pues ya es hora de comer. Ve y trae el lonche.”

**Lucky bastard!

About the Author:
Juan Martinez  contributes regulary on Bukisa, an online community where you earn residual income by sharing your knowledge.  To syndicate this article click “republish article” located at the bottom.


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