The Song Hidden in the South: As I Was Walking that Ribbon of Highway
By Laura Bardin On May 1, 2015 · Leave a Comment
As I was walking that ribbon of highwayFrank Sinatra. He was impressed I liked Sinatra songs. “Do you know this one?” Dinah Washington. “Yes!” Okay, what about this one? Ding, Dong the Witch is dead! I couldn’t help but laugh at the Honorable Brit’s playlist. He continued, “We sang this one the day Margaret Thatcher died. The other fellows and I in Parliament, jumping around, “Ding Dong, Ding Dong, the wicked witch is dead. It was a great day.”
I saw above me that endless skywayThe decrypt picnic table shook a little as M stood up from his spot sitting on top of it, placing the can of Budweiser to his left, under the less than dependable safe guard of his drunken co-worker. I had a hard time with his Spanish, and knew there was some dialect in there. I was trying to figure out what to say in response to the whirlwind of strange vocabulary I’d just heard when M started to peel his sweaty shirt off, and we all fell silent. His arms revealed the story that had been covered behind the sleeves. They were covered with an indescribable white pattern. I couldn’t tell you a medical term, but it was obvious what had attacked his skin. Pesticides.
***“This is America. We make special clothing for our military. We have all sorts of different fabrics we’ve invented. Yet our agricultural workers have nothing. Bare skin, or if they’re lucky, a trash bag to cover their body with.” The crowd erupted into rousing applause, mixed with cheers of “Si Se Puede” and “Hasta La Victoria,” paired with the building momentum of the infamous farmworker clap as the congresswoman lamented the day to day reality she’d seen occurring during her time following the Honorable Brits around on some local tobacco farms.
I saw below me that golden valleyThe images were hard to get rid of. Women who were in a field picking while a crop duster went overhead and sprayed the toxic chemicals on plants, and on them. One of whom was close to eight months pregnant. Men who explained that they had been ordered to enter a field and being working, even though the posted warning sign said it was too soon for re-entry because of the recent insecticide spraying. Their boss replied by going over, getting a leaf from a bright leaf tobacco plant, pressing it against his tongue, then pulling it away saying “See, nothing happened!” He got in his jacked up truck and drove away, returning to the comfort of his office where he could clean off his mouth and be protected from the buildup that occurred as the minutes crept on. The workers were left in the field for hours and hours, breathing it in as the chemicals seeped into their skin. Feel sick? Don’t approach the boss until the moment of true desperation. His response at that moment, “Go sit under the tree a few minutes.” A few people never got up from that tree.
This land was made for you and meWe eased the car off the side of the road to breathe for a moment. F climbed out, and we walked over to the side. He kicked the gravel hard, probably damaging his foot more than the ground, and threw down the piece of straw he’d been chewing on. “F***! Why’s it gotta be like this? It’s like seeing your family out there, you know.” He knew what it felt like to be stared at and seen as dispensable laborer, as less of a person. I just wanted to hold on to him, and tell him it didn’t have to be like this, that the necklace around his neck sporting the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe his devout Catholic mother had given him would always conquer the switchblade I knew was clipped inside his pocket. F ran his fingers through his floppy black hair, which was unrestrained by gel for a change, and looked out across the endless stretches of tobacco, as if he saw something in the distance that would give him an answer. Our eyes met for a long moment, until he finally sighed and turned to face the other organizers, returning to his confident leadership stance. “Okay, let’s go to the next camp you guys.” I didn’t move. “I’m okay,” he tried to convince me. He rested his hand on my shoulder for a minute, knowing that I didn’t believe him, and then got in the car.
***The chestnut colored horse backed into the corner of the corral, standing ankle deep in mud. I was sinking trying to stand still in the mud as I attempted to come up with a game plan. I knew that I had to get a bridle on him right quick because I was supposed to be in the arena shortly. He still had to be brushed and saddled, and time was ticking away. He was watching me intently, snorting through his nostrils just enough to hint he was bored with my amateur skills. I knew my trainer was watching me from a distance to see how I’d handle the situation. Her mantra echoed in my mind. “The best book for training a horse is the Gospel of John.” I’d heard it so many times, yet I still had a hard time understanding it. Every time she repeated it, I’d go home and re-read the Book of John. I didn’t see an overt connection. It was a nice saying, but I thought she was slightly misguided.
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