If you must know, in another life, I was a nurse. I worked in labor and delivery, and when I needed extra money, I worked for an agency that supplied nurses to short staffed hospitals, or for home health, and one time, I was given a contract with the state of California to go around to the migrant farm worker’s homes and vaccinate their children, sorta do a well baby check up on all the babies and small children. Plus, we had things to pass out, like soap, how arrogant of the state to assume the migrant farmers were not clean.
The man who was driving us down one farm road to another and to another until all I saw was miles and miles of farm land filled with tall stalks of corn, or tomatos or whatever else that particular piece of land was growing. We ran out of roads and started down tractor roads and then we were driving on a levee and right in the middle of a huge and I mean miles and miles of corn was a tree, a big truck, and a small house. They were waiting on us, someone told them and they were ready.
Five families, I learned, lived in this house, they were somehow all related. There was a large living room with two sofas, a kitchen, and two bedrooms; each bedroom, held one family and the living room was divided between three families. The younger families got the bedrooms, the older used the living room. It made sense.
I never learned their names, but knew that one man spoke broken English and he told me that at night, they bring out sleeping bags, for the floor, and the two older women slept on the sofas, while he, and the other men, slept on the floor next to their wives, the third couple slept together on a roll away bed that was folded neatly and was covered with a blanket and had things sitting on it, like it was a table. There were four older children who also slept in sleeping bags, only one girl of the four and she, her father said sleeps at the foot of the sofa by her mama.
The younger couples had younger children, and one of the women was pregnant. She had not been to the doctor. I put my stethoscope up to her abdomen and heard the rapid beat of the soon to be neonate, probably in a day or so. The baby was in place, she had dropped. This was her third baby and she said she knew what to do when the pains came, but, she was there alone with the other small children, the rest of the adults and older children worked the fields, they had no phone.
It’s not true, you know, what they say about how they live in filth. The floor was so clean you could have eaten off of it, and the kitchen was spotless, not one dish out of place. Even the porch was scrubbed down clean.
I asked through a translator when did the children go to school, and they lied and said that the older children go during the week. I knew they were lying, they looked away from me, and I didn’t see any evidence of school, no notebooks, nor school books, not even one pencil in sight.
It was time for me to check the children. No lice, no sores, and I gave them their shots to keep them from getting measles, mumps, and chickenpox. They drank the polio vaccine and I gave them their first of three hepatitis shots, and while the children screamed, the mothers and fathers were all touching their babies’ arms and legs and holding them and soothing them in their language.
I hated leaving them, and hoped that I got to come back. I worried about the young woman about to give birth. The man who spoke English invited me back for a party on Sunday afternoon, I smiled and said if I could find my way back, and he said he would meet me at the crossroads and lead me back, for me to bring my family. I couldn’t tell if he was being nice or if he really wanted me to come for food. I wrote my name and phone number down and told them where I worked and told them to bring the young woman there when she began her labor.
It was the next afternoon, I was coming out of the nurse’s lounge and a man came running toward, me, “Senora,” he yelled and pointed behind him at his wife, the young woman from the migrant camp, being pushed by an ER nurse.
Nine pounds that baby weighed, and she did fine, and the entire migrant farmers from that house stood in the waiting room, now I was obligated to go for Sunday dinner, I had, after all, delivered one of their own, and to honor me, they gave the baby my name. That Sunday, my children, my friend K.C. and I met one of the migrant farmers at the cross roads and followed his truck back to their place. My towheaded children played with the migrant farmer’s children and in spite of the language barrier, they were able to do what children do best, play.
They buried the pig in a pit, that is what they did, and when it was cooked, they lifted it out and we ate ground roasted pig, and had tamales, and fried cactus, and refried beans, and potatoes, and home made tortillas’, and when we were finished, the young man played his guitar and they sang and I didn’t understand a word, but I felt the music and it was happy and I hated for the day to end, but it did end. Before I left, I gave them clothes that my friends and I had collected, and a portable crib, and I found a sling so she could keep the baby next to her, and plenty of diapers and I hated to go, but I did, and the next time I went to the migrant farm house to give shots, a new group lived there, and my old friends had moved on, they, my guide said, were up north picking peaches.