Friday, October 24, 2008

You can always pick tomatoes


It was probably 18 years ago that I was awakened by a telephone call early one morning while sleeping in a hotel in San Diego where I had gone for a business assignment. It was my cousin Al calling me.

Cousin Al is my younger cousin by two years and his mom and my mom are sisters. He was, and still is, a union heavy-equipment operator of those monster machines used to move mountains and pave roads for construction. The work is hard, the hours are long, and the pay is good when the work is there. It’s not unusual to work hard during the summer months when construction is good, then kick back and collect unemployment benefits when work is slow or the weather is bad.

Well construction had been slow and cousin Al had been unemployed for a long time so his unemployment benefits were about to end. He had financial worries, probably not a whole lot different than many people today with house and car payments to make, a stay-at-home wife, and young children to feed. It was difficult for cousin Al to balance the family finances without a regular paycheck. The purpose of his call was to tell me his financial woes and that he was planning to quit making payments on his house loan and lose it in foreclosure. He wanted to know what I thought about his plan.

“Don’t do it”, I said emphatically to which cousin Al reminded me that he hadn’t worked in a long time and the prospects of immediate work looked bleak. He was referring to the work that he had always done, working as a union heavy equipment operator making a decent hourly wage.

“You can always pick tomatoes”, I further added as a figure of speech but there was an element of truth to it as well for both cousin Al and me.

As young children whose parents were immigrant farm workers, both our moms worked hard in the fields picking fruit and vegetables with their siblings, and they made sure their children had that experience too. So we both picked tomatoes during the summer months along with our other cousins and siblings. I never got rich picking tomatoes but it sure taught me the importance of a good education.

Cousin Al and I talked a little longer, about what I don’t remember, before eventually saying goodbye to each other.

Well cousin Al never did pick tomatoes, nor did he quit making payments on his house loan. The economy eventually got better and so did finances for him and his family.

He still works as a heavy equipment operator although, once again, the economy is not good and construction business is slow. Cousin Al is one of the fortunate ones who is working full time but things can change as they always do. He may one day call asking me for advice if he is without work and having difficult financial times. I think he knows what I will tell him - you can always pick tomatoes.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum

2 comments:

Charles Long said...

If Obama wins this election and then is able to implement all the tax increases and welfare programs that he's talked about, then we might all be happy to pick tomatoes. The economic ruin that he will cause will have far reaching consequences for a lot of us.

pierini said...

My wife and I are praying that the media is wrong.

Thanks for stopping by Charles and have a great day!