At First Light

by Rene Vera Jr.
(Reedley, Ca. USA)

At first light
Rene Vera Jr.

I remember the first time I was taken out to pick grapes and what an impact it made on my life at such a young age. My older brothers and sister had already received the call for duty, and this was going to be my first time out.

Driving down the road in the early morning hours... I realized that the sun would soon make an appearance, an appearance that would preface an imminent heat, a fervent heat, a heat that would once again ravage the valley and ravage the people.

As we neared our destination, I could smell the grueling job that we had before us and wondered what my friends would be doing on this Saturday morning.

The glow of the early morning fire defined the silhouettes of the old men that gathered around the flame. The sounds of their voices as they talked about the antics of the previous day drifted in the wind. I remember how the smell of the warming burritos was pleasing to the senses, and how I laid in the back seat of our old Chevy trying to recapture the night that had been stolen from me when the clock struck time and called my name.

As I stood with the crowd of strangers, the sky began to turn blue; this seemed to signify a silent sound of reveille, a sound that stirred the crowd for the initiation of the day’s marathon. As I took my place at the foot of a long row of grapes, the walls of green seemed never-ending…they towered over me… and stretched for what seemed like miles and miles. In those days the vision of my youth never failed me, but standing in the shadowy early morning light… I could only stare into a blue tunnel of darkness.

After a few hours the reassurance of the early morning coolness was slowly giving way to a searing and immense heat, which I soon discovered can effortlessly obliterate and render a young persons spirit defeated. As I filled the pan for the first time; dust changed the color of my skin. Peeking through the vines, I observed the sun greeting the world for the first time today. Black widows played before my eyes as I felt the weight of the fruit grow heavier by the hour. What had seemed bearable previously was now devastating to my self assurance.

After a few hours of work, my confidence and my body were in a state of denial. Soon it was time for lunch, and one by one a progression of dust covered mummies with cowboy hats began to make their way out of the field for a short rest period. Had I been smart and covered up from head to toe as everyone else had, I would not have suffered from searing burns on every unprotected part of my aching sunburned body. The only covering I could find, was underneath the vines where the stagnant air and the lab created white dust were too much to tolerate, and once again I would find myself cooking in the San Joaquin valley heat. Drudging through a fine dirt…a quicksand like dirt… it was then that I discovered that our resting place was the very same dirt that took away the last piece of self esteem that I arrived with on this morning. I couldn’t envision myself surviving this agony everyday. There was no way that I could continue with this exhausting pace and be able to stand at the end of each trial.

Heading back to work I was completely overcome with the fact that we had another four to five hours to go. Following close behind were my accomplishments for the day… a sea of green…a sea of green on a paper trail. This is the cause of my pains, but also the sustenance of my being… As I filled the pan for yet another time, I could hear the old man in the row next to me singing with a low but content voice… and it angered me. How could he possibly be singing at a time like this? Doesn’t he feel the pain that I feel?

As he turned to dump his bounty once again, I could see the sweat dripping down his face. A sweat that formed muddy tracks on a dusty face…tracks that that told the story of a harsh life…of a harsh existence. I was amazed at how he toiled in the fervent San Joaquin valley heat with not an ounce of contempt for this job. This was the same old man that drove up this morning in a total heap…this was the same old man that drank warm water and ate boiled eggs for lunch…this was the same old man that should be enjoying a happy retirement……. How can he be happy? How can he?

Mid afternoon was upon us now, and I was completely, physically, and spiritually crushed. I was sure that the dust mummies would come out now and show their scorn for this god forsaken task, I was sure that they would cry out and vow never to come back here again! But I was wrong.

They were happy………they were really happy? They were smiling, and talking, and bidding each other a farewell until they meet again? I didn’t get it.

It took years………many years……for me to figure things out… but now as a grown man…I get it. I really do. I’ve come to the conclusion that…it’s now where I’m working, or what I have to do for a living to survive…but it’s how I live my life. It’s how I cherish every last moment that I have here on earth. It’s how I get things done the best I can for myself and for my employer. The bible says in Colossians 3:23 “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people."

And now…at the end of my work day, I wipe the tracks from my face and close the book on another job completed.

I’ll never forget those days. They were very hard days. And I’ll always be thankful for the trials that I went through…trials that taught me so much. And I’ll never forget the unforgettable experience I had, “At first light."

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A beautifully crafted story, Rene. Thank you so much for your contribution.

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