Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Reversal of Misfortune (Ch. 25)

Once in Brownsville, Texas, Francisco and Mauricia stayed on the outskirts of town to keep a low cover from the locals.  Francisco spotted a truck coming down the road and stood against a tree as he waved at Mauricia to duck with the children in the brush.  The truck became noisier as it came closer and Francisco's eyes widened to focus on the person driving.  To his surprise an anglo man was driving the truck and he noted several mexican men riding in the back.  The truck slowed down after they passed Francisco and began to go in reverse.  The anglo man told one of the men in the back to ask Francisco if he was looking for work.  "Quieres trabajo?"  asked the stout man with the beard.  "We recently lost a couple of men and need help on the ranch."  Francisco scratched his head and looked back towards the brush where Mauricia was hiding.  "I have my family with me." Francisco whispered to the man.  The man spoke in English to the driver and there was silence.  The driver then said, "the woman can cook and clean, tell him to get in the truck, today is his lucky day."

Francisco whistled to Mauricia and she jumped out and he helped her pull the children onto the truck.  The men chuckled as they whispered amongst themselves.  Francisco asked, "we make you laugh eh?"  The stout man seemed to do the talking and said, "you brought the wife and kids too?  most of us come alone, it's easier."  Francisco responded, "Look, I could have left her behind but trust me, there is no way I can lose her."  Mauricia slapped his arm and he smiled at the men, "see?"

Mauricia leaned over to Francisco and whispered, "Francisco, today has truly been our lucky day.  God has answered our prayers." 

The truck drives down a winding road for twenty minutes until they made their way into a ranch outside of Brownsville.  The ranch belonged to the Merritt family who raised cattle, goats and grew cotton.  The Merrits lost some workers who went back to Mexico and others for miscellaneous reasons.  Once Mauricia and Francisco arrived Mr. Merritt was outside putting up his saddle when Jimmy drove up in the truck with the men and their new arrivals. 

"What do we have here?" asked Mr. Merritt as he walked towards the truck.  Jimmy answered, "Well, we lost that bunch of Mexicans last month and we need the help, the woman can cook for everyone and clean the house for the missus'."  "You're right about that Jimmy, good eye." Mr. Merritt responded.  "They can stay with the other two families in the shacks in the back.   Have Humberto show them around and give them instructions."  Jimmy waved at Humberto who understood and spoke some English and instructed him to take Francisco and his family to the shacks in the back.  "Vamonos", instructed Humberto.  "I will show you to your quarters." 

Francisco and Mauricia walked behind Humberto as he gave them the tour of the grounds and told them where they were allowed to go and not to go.  Humberto said, "Mr. Merrit pays two dollars for a days work."  Mr. Merritt is a strict man but you should not worry about him so much.  You need to worry more about the other Mexicans here on the grounds, they will steal from you, so beware.  I tell you this as you brought your small family and wife.  Here we are."  Humberto turned around to show them the shack Francisco and Mauricia would occupy during their stay.  The shack had gaps in the walls and looked as if it was going to topple over any moment.  Mauricia looked at Francisco perplexed.  "I know what to do woman, do not look at me like that.  I can fix this."  Mauricia just said, "Hmmmph!"  Humberto turned around as he walked away and announced, "Work starts at five a.m. sharp Francisco and Mauricia, breakfast is served at seven a.m."  "Si Senor!"  answered Francisco. 

Immediately, both Francisco and Mauricia patched up the shack they were to occupy as their home.  Mauricia broomed the dirt out of the house and set the children down in the middle of the shack as they worked away. 

Within a couple of hours and help from some of the African American workers on the ranch they finished patching up the house.  Mauricia could not help but stare at the African American gentlemen, she had never seen a white man and then African Americans too.  Francisco told her, "Woman, stop staring, that is not appropriate."  She immediately stopped and went into the house to organize whatever she could.  She found crates outside and used one for Maria de Jesus' crib and the others as a makeshift table and chairs.  With time the shack became a descent little home Mauricia learned to appreciate.

Life at the Merritt ranch was not easy.  Mrs. Merritt was ill and needed much help.  Mauricia and two other women helped with the cooking and cleaning and then helped plant cotten in February.  Things began to get a little harder for Mauricia as she was nearing the baby's birth.  Most of the time everyone ate rice, biscuits, and beans.  When the Merritt's killed cow or goats the scraps were given to the workers for meals.  Those days were special as that was as close to meat the workers came to for many months. 

As with her other pregnancies, the closer to the birth became more difficult for Mauricia to sleep comfortably.  She tossed and turned and used burlap with newspaper to cushion her belly weight.  It was winter and the nights were cold too.  This was the first winter Francisco and Mauricia experienced in Texas and Mauricia was content with just cold weather.  She did not want snow, she did not know what to expect and feared the children would get sick. 

Mauricia slept leaning against the wall this night and the whistling of the wind was lulling her to sleep when she jerked up from a sharp pain.  "Ayyyy!!"  she screamed.  Francisco pops up and checks on her, "Are you alright?  Is it time?"  Mauricia's face said enough, the worried look across her face was a confirmation that this was not just a false alarm as water began to trickle down her thigh."
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