A quick gust of wind pushed the fire’s warmth back into the barrel, sending a spray of smoke and sparks heavenward. The wind’s icy cold pricked Jose’s cheeks and brought more tears to his eyes. He never had gotten use to the north’s snow and cold.
The night’s cold turned his thoughts to images of warm sunshine and gentle breezes. Even though the labor was backing breaking, working in California in the early fall, harvesting grapes for the vineyard owners, did have its advantages, weather-wise.
The trouble had begun for Jose in California many years past, during the grape picking season. Organizing of migrant workers was in the air, but everyone knew to speak publicly about it meant losing your job, or worse. And there were spies everywhere.
One had to be careful about whom one talked to. More than one person had lost their job, due to an indiscriminate conversation, while another earned an extra pay check. Jose understood how being organized would benefit himself and all the other workers. But he was not able to walk the fine line of diplomacy.
He had experienced too much injustice to wait patiently for justice. There was too much pent-up anger to keep calm in the face of deceit.
He was a valued worker, but had gotten a reputation for being confrontational, and too physical. Jose’s quick temper and union sympathies got him blacklisted in some places. But as an illegal alien, he could not to seek legal intervention for unfair labor practices. Even as the laws began to change and migrant workers’ lives were improving some, work became increasingly difficult to find. More and more produce was coming from foreign markets. Many farmers, especially in the Midwest, were switching to machine harvestable crops, such as soy beans and corn. In fact, the annual fall pumpkin harvest in this part of Illinois no longer existed. The migrant camps had closed last spring, along with the cannery.
And that is how he had ended up here in Springfield, Illinois, homeless and unemployed.
To add to his difficulties, he had, it seems, acquired a dependent. They had met while Jose was picking cherries just outside of Traverse City, Michigan. When they met she was pregnant and seemed to be in need of support. An inner voice had told Jose to reach out to her, but every other part of his body was saying, “Run! Don’t get involved!” Wisely, or foolishly, he listened to the voice. And here they were, at the end of December, with Maura about to deliver.
Editor’s note: Check back here tomorrow for the third installment in Rev. Bill Sterritt’s modern adaptation of the nativity story. In tomorrow’s excerpt, we meet Maura and learn how this upper middle class teenager from Connecticut ended up pregnant and homeless in Illinois.
RI Future is serializing Sterritt’s 26-page short story throughout the holiday season. You can read his first excerpt here, and here’s my post on the Amicable Congregational Church’s Nativity story and scene.