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Grading Lemons at the Washers, Chula Vista, 1956. (see text below COMMENTS)

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My Anaheim mom, aunt and uncle talked about people they knew who worked in the packinghouses and the orchards. Grading the lemons in the washer was one of the better jobs, semi-skilled. Yet the ladies probably made about $4,000  a year, maybe less. We’d find this work monotonous and grinding, yet often these women found ways to communicate while they worked, and even visited. Sometimes they even sang. They became friends and made it tolerable. We can imagine what they talked about at their 20-minute lunch breaks — their children, husbands, families, health, recipes, movies, sales at the market, their home towns in Oklahoma, Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas. 

At quitting time, they might walk 3 miles home or take a bus, sometimes stop for groceries, and then at home, make dinner, do some sewing, housework, Maybe the husband worked nights, maybe a daughter was 15 and already wild; maybe one son had dyslexia no one understood; the oldest boy was in the army in Germany; the oldest girl was babysitting; the little daughter was a born actress. 

After the lady got her children to bed at 9:30, she stepped out back to smoke a cigarette by the clothesline, near the incinerator and the fruit trees, and she cried. Her grandmother yelled for her in the back bedroom, and the wife dried her tears and went to see. 

By 10:30 she was sound asleep, dreaming of James Garner and Burt Lancaster. The train horn at midnight woke her up. She found her oldest daughter in  the kitchen, drinking a glass of milk.

She gave her mother $5 and kept $5.

“Will I be able to go to college, Mama?”

“Well, maybe, Betty. If things work out. Maybe the JC.”  

The two sat in the dark within the soft green glow of a little Timex plastic clock. Betty looked just like Aunt Enid from Tabor, Iowa. The air was cool and still, and sweet from the orange groves and lemon trees outside. The wood of the old frame house creaked.

Mama had a headache. She put her arms around Betty and hugged her close.

“You’re a comfort to me, sweetie.”

A dog barked a block away, soft and familiar.

Mama had a job, a good job. 




January 17, 2022