by | Jun 9, 1998 | Caring, Death, Love

It was still dark when I was finishing up my oatmeal. The hot dry summer air of late July was coming through the window and I was contemplating the long day ahead. We were in the middle of one of the worst droughts in history. Don’t know if any of you have ever drug a cotton sack, but in South Texas in July and August you learn about Hell because you are at the gates of it. I got my hat, picked up my sack and walked across the street to the barn where Jojo, his family and friends were camped. Jojo and I had been picking cotton now for about two weeks together.

I was thirteen and he was seventeen, but we were the same size (maybe genetics, but I think a lot was diet too). We would drag those sacks up and down the rows, me talking broken Castilian Spanish and him Mestizo. What a conversation we had going. Thinking back I am so glad they made us start taking Spanish in the third grade because I was able to make friends with him even though there were conversation difficulties between us and it has helped me immensely during my travels around the world over the years.

When we would go by the cotton wagon after each trip down a row we would weigh our cotton, empty the sacks [even though there wouldn’t be but a couple pounds or so] then sit in the shade of the wagon for a little while and I would try and teach him to multiply. He knew how to add good, but that was it. He had never gone to school in Mexico where they were from. I made some flash cards and we would practice every time we took a break. His parents would fuss at him if we took longer than ten minutes because they needed to make as much money as possible in the short two months of the picking season.

We worked along side each other for several weeks and I had earned enough to get me a new shirt, pants and a pair of shoes for the coming school year. I needed to work ’till school started so I could get me another warm weather shirt and two cold weather ones to last me through the year. Maybe even a couple of tee shirts if I could hustle a little harder. I would always take leftovers to him that we had for supper. He had never eaten things like chicken fried venison, home made sausage even boiled new potatoes were a great treat for him.

We had tons of tomatoes and I took them sacks for the whole group to use. Guess that’s why they tolerated me and our friendship. He couldn’t believe the nice clothes that I had bought and reveled just touching them. Even though it was only a pair of jeans and a shirt. His parents took all the money that he earned so he had nothing to spend, besides he couldn’t leave the farm where they were camped. All the folks in his family wore the same clothes everyday and he was in absolute rags. I mean stitches, patches, you name it, rags.

One day a package arrived for me from my grandmother. She had made me a bunch of underwear from Muley brand feed sacks. One for everyday of the week. I looked them over and one pair stuck out. It had maroon and gold flowers all over it, my school colors.I thought to myself that’s the one I’ll wear to all out football games on Friday nights. I did so love to go to the games and watch the big older guys play so hard and make touchdowns like Buddy Walker, Morris Byerly, Hall Pusley, Doc and Perry Walls, Paul Treiber, Bobby Phillips and all the others that played for our school. They were real heroes to all us little guys.

That evening after supper I took him a bunch of fried catfish, he had never tasted fish before and really liked it. I got quite a thrill out of watching his reactions to the “new to him foods” that I took over. I also took a took a pair of the underwear to show him. He couldn’t believe it. I also showed him the pair I had on that was for the game that night and told him all about football games.

I got to thinking and asked if he could go with me since it was a thirty minute or so walk a couple miles over to the school. We kind of got permission from his parents and took off across the fields in a straight line. Since it was early September by then they didn’t turn the lights on till after the game had been going for awhile, but we could hear the band playing and I could tell he was excited hearing the music. We got to the game and went in, stopping by the concession stand where I got us Cokes and popcorn which he had never had either. He was so fascinated by the game, music and all the people standing, hollering and carrying on. He had no idea what was happening, but he liked it. After the game I got us another Coke and we walked home in the dark talking our broken languages so to speak.

The next morning was Saturday and I headed over to the barn before daylight as usual. When I got there he was gone and I asked about him. They were preparing their morning meal and had sent him across Up River Road to a field that had onions growing in it to get some for them so I sat down and waited, knowing he would be back in a few minutes.

We all heard the tires screech and the horrible bump and crash. Everyone jumped up and ran around the barn, by the old house and to the road. There he lay under the front of the car all crumpled up. The driver was trying to get him out and was screaming for someone to call an ambulance and the police. I was numb. All the blood,,,,,,,,,I just froze,,,,,his family was screaming and it was total confusion. I finally ran home to dial ‘O’ and tell the operator what happened so she could summon help. Then I ran back where I found the farmer that lived just East of where we were picking had got there.

I watched as they wrapped him in his tattered, bloody rags with some burlap bags. I knew he was dead, but I was still numb and shocked I guess. By then the highway patrol had got there and an ambulance showed up and took him. The five or six onions were scattered on the road where he was. I went home and I guess I cried forever, I can’t remember, but I went to call someone, maybe a friend and tell them what happened and there was the farmer on our party line that was at the scene talking about the little boy and funeral arrangements. He told the man (I guess the funeral guy) that he would arrange space for him at Rose Hill to be buried there.

The things that ran through my mine were his rags and the services. I piped up and told the farmer that I had clothes to fit him and would bring them over to his house. I hung up and went to my closet. There were the shirt and pants he had touched, I took them down and folded them. Then I remembered he had never had any underwear. I looked out the window and my mom had washed that morning and there were the maroon and gold ones on the line. I went and folded them.

As I walked across the field through the cotton stalks of that drought stricken farm to the farmers house I wondered why anyone would want to make a living doing that, why would anyone want to pick cotton and live like they did, out of a stakebed old truck moving from field to field in the Texas heat. I walked up to the door and the man and his wife were getting ready to leave to take stuff to the family and the funeral home. I asked if I could ride along.

We stopped by the barn and they gave them food and then we went to the funeral home where we gave the clothes to the man there. He said there was no need to use the underwear and I piped up” there is a very good reason to use the underwear”. Settled that real quick like. The next week at the services there was hardly anyone there, just his family members and I. I walked up to the casket. I had never seen a dead person before so I was very apprehensive. There he was, clean, with a haircut and new clothes on. I reached down and moved the cover back. There was the top of the maroon and gold underwear showing.

Mark Crider

P. S. Shouldn’t we try to show our appreciation towards those we love while they are still alive? Brighten someone’s day today and show them how important they are to you.