PHOTO: Fig tree with fruit. Getty Images.
It felt good having a place to stay and knowing that soon we were going to also have food to eat. We selected the house that was next to the entrance of the camp. They were all the same, though. It had an elevated large bedroom with a wooden floor and a small room with a dirt floor and open windows that served as a kitchen. It had a wood stove. There was a set of restrooms (for men and women) and showers in a small building in the center of the camp. They had running water. That was good, too. In Mexicali we had an outhouse and only cold water for the shower.
I don’t remember picking up figs and eating them that day, but we probably did. We were really hungry. Besides, there were lots of them all over the ground. Once settled in our new home, our dad and a couple of us went to the store. It was next to the railroad track, on Bullard Avenue, the same road that ran next to the camp. I remember it well. It was a narrow and straight road with miles and miles of fig trees planted on both sides.
The owner of the small store already knew about us. He told us what kind of stuff we could buy. We picked up a sack of flour, a large bag of pinto beans, potatoes, lard, eggs, butter, some meat, milk, and a few other things. The car still had fuel left, but our dad decided to top it off, just in case we needed it. Once back at the camp, our mother cooked beans, potatoes and meat and made a huge pile of tortillas. I think she used a long, empty glass bottle to roll the dough. Several of us helped.
We had an unforgettable meal that day. The food tasted great. Cooking on a wood stove in an open kitchen, among fig trees, gives food a peculiar flavor. Our mother prepared the beans the same way she had done it before in Mexico, but those beans had a particular scent to them. They were really good. The tortillas were good, too. I ate a lot of them. We all felt tired and full after the feast.
The week went by fast. We had a chance to explore the orchard and other areas close by. We ate a lot of figs and met others that arrived at the camp after we did. They were all Mexican. One family was from Brawley, in Imperial Valley; another one was from Coachella, but was made up of only the father and his four sons. The rest of that family stayed back home they said. Both groups had been coming to Figarden to pick figs for several seasons. At night they would get together and talk and play songs on their radios. I learned a lot about America from them.
On the first day of picking figs, the wife of the contractor joined us, working right along with us. She gave us tips on how to do the work efficiently. She was very nice and spoke some Spanish. She was about thirty, had blond hair and blue eyes. I was surprised to see someone like her involved in such hard work. Although we used ladders to reach the fruit in the trees, we spent part of the day bent down picking up the figs that had fallen on the ground.
I really liked the contractor’s wife; there was a welcoming quality to her. I asked her where she was from; I was curious. She said she was an “Arkie.” I didn’t know what that meant.
“From Arkansas,” she explained in Spanish.
Once we learned the ropes, she left us and wished us good luck. She was very nice. I will never forget her. I wish I could remember her name.