Chapter 1 of Remember Job can be found here.
They filled the tank of the rickety Model T and tied the used tire to the bumper. Their lives had boiled down to what few possessions they could stow onto the leaking automobile. Gone was the farm. They had traded their cow for the car and traded eggs for the parts get it running. Finally, the sale of the mules was to finance their traveling expenses.
“Saint Christopher,” Markus whispered to himself as he engaged the clutch and turned the vehicle west.
“Saint Jude,” Ingrid said as looked at her children’s dirty faces and thought of California.
The drive through New Mexico started uneventfully. The vast desert was a scary proposition with four hungry children and a rickety Model T. Over the long gentle grades of eastern New Mexico, the trusty flat-head engine chugged along. They didn’t climb hills quickly, but they were able to make it to the top.
As they pulled into Santa Rosa, they saw dust on the horizon. It seems everyone along Route 66 had the same idea: find shelter. Needless to say, there was no room at any of the inns, which was fine with Markus as they didn’t have the money to stay in one. They made their way to the local church, Saint Rose of Lima. Within the thick stone walls, they got a respite from the heat and blowing dust.
The children were too in awe to make a sound. They had never been in a place like this before. The bright contrast and coloring of the windows against the dark stone walls was mesmerizing. The altar, protected behind the communion rail, reached almost to the ceiling. The dark wooden pews creaked and popped as they sat down. The faint smell of incense from a recent High Mass surrounded them with a sense of reverence.
Ingrid didn’t sit for long. Rising on the kneeler, she pulled her beads out of her pocket and began, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…”
“Guten Tag, I am Father Müller.”
Both Markus and Ingrid started around. Their Rosary having finished they had just sat back into the pew. Imagine their surprise being greeted in their native language.
Directly behind them stood a thin young man of average height with curling dark hair that was thinner than it should have been for his age. The swish of his cassock took them back to their childhood.
“Good evening Father,” replied Markus. “We’ll leave as soon as the dust dies down enough to set up our tent.”
“Nonsense, I have an extra room in the parsonage with plenty of floor space. Also, my mother just sent me a package from home and I need someone to help me eat my pickles and leberwurst. I even have some fleischwurst for the young ones. The cowboys and Mexicans around here don’t appreciate such things.”
It was the first time Ingrid had slept in a bed in ages. As she sank into the down mattress next to the warmth of her husband, she couldn’t help savor the best day she’d had since the dust began so many years before.
As sleep drifted quickly into her senses, she whispered, “Saint Rose, pray for us.”
Everything went well until just west of Flagstaff. The winding mountains and rising altitude made the car’s engine wheeze and cough, much like the little ones. There was hope, however, in the fact that they hadn’t seen a duster in days. They pulled into a gas station in Williams and disembarked.
“Fill, please, and check the radiator,” Markus said to the attendant, handing him two dollars.
After washing all the dust off from their long ride, Ingrid took the children to a nearby road-side stand to look for something to eat. She wanted to get the children something substantial like beef jerky, but they didn’t have money for such luxuries. The children found a hotdog vendor and begged their mother for one.
“What day is today?” Ingrid asked her children.
“Friday,” replied Wilhelm.
They entered the car with a jar of pickled eggs and a sack of sweet potatoes. Neither would spoil in the desert heat and both could be eaten on a Friday.
Barstow arrived just in time. The Model T’s radiator did not like the desert. Neither Markus nor Ingrid had ever experienced such a climate. The thermometer at the filling station near Needles had read 115 degrees.
“How much further is Bakersfield? And why are we going there again?” Ingrid asked her husband as she handed out hard pieces of sweet potato to the children.
“Hundred and thirty miles. We’re going there because there are jobs in the fields. Besides, it is in San Joaquin Valley. If it is good enough for the Blessed Virgin Mary’s papa, it is good enough for me.”
The long, hard drive had been a respite for Markus. While it had not been without worries, progressing toward a goal gave him a sense of accomplishment; something he hadn’t had in a while. His main concern now was Ingrid. She had lost even more weight off her already thin body. Her hair was thinning and she was pale. Her threadbare cotton dress no longer fit her curves as it once did and blew in the breeze like it was hung on a clothesline.
As they pulled into Bakersfield, their hearts sank. The influx of people in recent years had strained the town’s resources. Tent settlements abounded. Out of work men sat sleeping on street corners, heads covered by yesterday’s newspaper and hats next to them with a few copper coins inside. Markus parked the car next to a grocery about two blocks from the town center.
“Take the kids inside and find them something to eat. I will be back soon,” he said, walking away briskly.
Markus carefully walked the town square, pausing briefly at the door of each saloon to listen – finally deciding to walk into the quietest one, The Hospitality House. Walking up to the bar, he placed a quarter on the wood and asked for a Coca-Cola.
“Where might a man find work?” Markus asked the barkeep, nodding at him to keep the change.
“Well, that is something just about everybody would like to know,” he replied. “If you think you can hack it in the fields, there are a few places to try. North of town there is Mr. Smithwycke’s cotton plantation and Señor Chavez’ vineyard. To the west is Monsieur Petit and his alfalfa fields. Those are the main players in town.”
The sun was just rising as Markus quietly climbed from underneath the car in order to not wake the children. They had picked a spot just north of town along the side of the Kern River. It would provide water, shade and diversion for Ingrid and the kids. He planned to walk to Smithwycke’s and Chavez’ places today looking for work. He softly said his morning prayers as he cleaned up down at the river.
As he pulled his hat on and walked away, Ingrid whispered to herself, “Saint Cajetan.”
Markus reached the Smithwycke plantation by ten o’clock and was immediately turned away by the gate guards, “No work, no Okies allowed!”
Turning west the Chavez vineyard was five miles away.
The morning had gone well for Ingrid. Despite her hunger, she pulled the last of the milk from the river’s edge and gave it to the children to drink for breakfast. She set about fashioning fishing poles out of willow branches, thread and safety pins.
“You boys are going to catch our supper while Inga, Adele and I look for greens.”
Walking down the dusty road, one could see the weariness in Markus’ gate. His experience at the Chavez vineyard had been more pleasant than the Smithwycke place. Señor Chavez himself had spoken to him, explaining that he had to take care of his people before opening the door to gringos. He had even given him a bit of bread and cheese to start him on his way. A produce truck drove just past him and slowed to a stop. Markus jogged forward and hopped on the tailgate slapping the fender.
Ingrid’s spirits were good that afternoon. They had found plenty of wild onions and dandelion greens and the boys had caught a few small fish using grasshoppers as bait. She thanked her guardian angel for their good fortune and asked Markus’ angel do the same.
At the Petit ranch, Markus had been welcomed into the business office and Monsieur Petit’s manager interviewed him about his experience running tractors, combines and other farming machinery. Markus’ hopes rose as the interview progressed.
“My final requirement is this: please empty your pockets onto this table. I want to make sure I am not hiring somebody who brings weapons onto the ranch,” demanded the manager.
Markus slowly took the two things he had in his pockets out and placed them as instructed; his handkerchief and his rosary.
“Thank you. Please leave the premises, I will not hire you.”
“Please, sir, I have a wife and four children. I know how to do your work.”
“No, I cannot. Monsieur Petit has standards that must be upheld. Any applicant with three strikes cannot be hired.”
“What were my three strikes?”
“First, you’re an Okie, but so is everybody else looking for work. Second, you’re a Kraut and Monsieur Petit remembers what happened to Paris in 1871. Third, you are a Pope worshipper and this is a Huguenot household. Good day.”
It was dark when Markus returned. The kids were asleep with bellies full of trout and greens. Even Ingrid had eaten well and was dozing in the back seat. He crept quietly past the car and walked down to the water’s edge. Sitting on the damp earth, he wept.
“Remember Job,” Ingrid said as she embraced his large shoulders from behind.