My very early childhood was unusual, to say the least. My brothers, mother and I moved a LOT. I’ve been told I was born with wheels on my butt.
My mother left and divorced my birth-father when I was very young. My father was a timber-faller. We lived quite modestly.
Mom then married a man a that was a migrant worker. As a family, we followed the fruit, picking as we went, to earn a living. We lived in Picker’s Cabins or tents or the back of the station wagon.
This was in the early 1960’s. Although many black people did this type of work, people don’t realize that in the 1960’s, a large percentage of the migrant workers were white families, just like mine. Today, the migrant workers are mostly Hispanic. The working conditions are no better today, in fact in some instances, they are worse.
Most of the Picker’s Cabins had no running water or electricity. Women cooked on communal stoves or over open fires. The toilets, if there were any, were few and in disgraceful disrepair. In a lot of cases, there were only outhouses.
There were few laundry facilities. Most of the time, clothing was washed by hand and hung to dry.
In some of the cabins, the property owners provided bales of straw to use as bedding and insulation. In some instances, you didn’t even get that. The more generous ones provided crude bunk beds.
I was lucky. My mother and step-father were prepared. We had a nice canvas tent and bedding or sleeping bags.
My mother became very adept at cooking over an open fire. She was amazing!
Washing and sanitary conditions were a challenge. The water came from a single faucet for all the workers in most instances. Water had to be carried for washing, bathing or cooking.
I have 3 brothers; two older brothers and one younger one. My brothers and I spent our days out in the fields with my parents. We weren’t much help as far as the picking went, but my mother could keep an eye on us as she worked.
I can imagine the hardship on her with 4 children living in these conditions. My younger brother was just a toddler at the time.
The migrant workers were exploited at every turn. Many were uneducated and illiterate. In some instances, the workers would end up owing more money to the owner’s ‘store’ than they had earned; thus, keeping them working for little or nothing instead of moving on.
There was often times a “boss” on the farm that the workers reported to, depending on how large the farm was. Sometimes the boss would skim off the top of the worker’s wages. They would be quoted one price upon arrival at the farm, but when payday came, they were at the mercy of the boss. If they complained, they were simply run off the farm. This meant they were out of work.
There were many horrors that took place on these farms; anything from rapes, to murders and exploitation. These people were at the mercy of the farmer.
I was fortunate. This lifestyle didn’t last long. I think we were on the road for a couple of years. I was also lucky that I was so young. It’s just the way life was; I knew no different.
This is a part of history that most Americans have forgotten or don’t know about. This is a shameful, dark part of our own culture.
If you’d like to learn more about this time in American history, I invite you to watch this video. This video was broadcast on Thanksgiving Day in 1960. It’s called “Harvest of Shame”. See it HERE. While most of it is set in Florida and the east coast, I was on the west coast as a kid. It is still an eye opener.
*There was a followup video made of the 1960 version called “Harvest of Shame Revisited“. This was made in 2010. While the conditions and pay had improved, it is still a very hard way to live. You can see that video HERE.
**With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, I felt that this post, originally from 2014, but modified here, was appropriate. Although I had a rough start in life, (Another Life to me) I feel that it has shaped me into the person that I am today. A person that I am grateful to be, with a life that I am so very blessed to have. Thank you for joining me on this journey.
Copyright (C) 2022 Penny Wilson