Earlier this week, when I was watching a program about Woodstock, I started thinking about my experience at the 1970 Atlanta International Pop Festival. I decided to re-post a slightly edited version of a post I wrote about that experience. Most of the words in the post come from the scrapbook I made at the end of that experience.
In 1970, three friends and I spent the summer traveling throughout the U.S. doing migrant farm labor. Our first job was in Florida, not far from my parents’ home in West Palm Beach. When we left that area, we headed for Byron, Georgia. We were excited to attend the upcoming Atlanta International Pop Festival prior to looking for more work.
To get to the event, we had to park about three miles away and walk in. We decided to camp outside the festival grounds on our first night. We had left our hot canvas tent in Florida, so ended up sharing a tarp with some people we met.
We spent the next day at the festival roasting in the sun. The temperature was about 104 degrees. There was no shade and no breeze. There wasn’t enough water and ice was considered a luxury. Five pounds of ice cost $1 and we paid 25 cents for a popsicle. The event staff passed out salt tablets, hats and suntan lotion.
I enjoyed the music despite the physical discomfort. We were about 30 feet from the stage!
I had mixed feelings/thoughts about being there. I was super, super uptight during a lot of it. The heat as well as the lack of water and food was unbearable and I didn’t like being around so many people who were stoned.
Our skin was blistered and swollen from sunburn when we left. However listening to musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, the Chambers Brothers and the Memphis cast for Hair as well as getting to know some of the people who were there made it worth it. My favorite memory of the event was waking up the last morning to Richie Havens singing “Here Comes the Sun!”
My final conclusion was that I was glad we had gone, but didn’t think I would ever want to do it again.
The festival was over at 10 a.m. Monday so we packed up, hitched a ride to our car and were on our way by 11:30. Off to find a job!
To read more about this very important summer in my life click here.
I spend so much time working in the Greenbelt that I often don’t notice what is going on in my own yard.
Two days ago, I realized my camellia shrub had started blooming, and the flowers were beautiful.
When I knelt down to take a photo of a bloom towards the bottom of the bush…
… I saw that there was something partially buried in the ground. I pulled it out.
Where did the shoe come from and when? It certainly didn’t come from my house. I looked around and noticed that the bottom part of my neighbor’s rotten garage was in front of me.
An animal must have pulled the shoe from there at some point. Finding something so unusual in my yard felt like an added bonus. I now had a mini adventure to report on, in addition to sharing the beautiful flowers.
Even though I’m back in Seattle now, it is important to me that I tell you stories about the last part of this visit to Amritapuri.
Baby Feeding Photos
In Hinduism, it is traditional for a baby to be fed its first solid food as part of a sacred ceremony. When a parent asks Amma to perform that ritual, she holds the baby on her lap and feeds him or her some payasam, a sweet pudding. An ashram photographer takes a photo of Amma feeding the baby; thus, providing the parents a memento of the experience.
Soon after I arrived at Amma’s Amritapuri ashram this year, I noticed that there were five big photos of Amma under the windows of the outside portion of the west wall of the auditorium stage. I had never noticed them there before.
The pictures were visible to every person who walked up the ramp that goes from the auditorium floor to the stage. From a distance, the photos looked identical. They were each about 40 inches high and 24 inches wide. When I saw the photos up close, and read the sign that was next to them, I learned that the big photos of Amma were actually comprised of tiny photos of Amma feeding babies. Each big photo contained pictures of 6000 different baby feedings. I remember believing they were tile mosaics but now that I think about it, I’m having doubts about that.
Since each of the baby feeding photos were of a different baby, and there were five large pictures of Amma, 30,000 babies feedings were part of that exhibit. I was intrigued and astounded by that display throughout my trip; astounded by the display itself and by the fact that Amma has performed that many baby feedings.
Many of my friends were participating in a nine-day silent retreat (meditation, yoga, silence) during the end of my trip. It was over the evening of the 11th and I was on the road to the airport by 5:00 a.m. on the 12th. It felt strange to leave not having seen so many friends for nine days. A highlight though was that my friend Ramana arrived from Seattle on the 9th. He and I hadn’t been in Amritapuri at the same time for several years. It was fun to spend some time with him during the last days of my visit.
I was trying to get some information for friends who were coming to India a few days after my departure. I was walking to an ATM when my friend Do walked up to me and asked if I had been able to get the information I was needing. When I said no, he told me that Prabha could probably help. I proceeded to the ATM. As I was returning to my building, I had a momentary glimpse of someone who looked like Prabha. I wasn’t sure since I was seeing her from behind. After a moment’s thought, I decided to check it out. It was her, and she did give me the information I needed. I found out that Do had seen her right after I talked to him, and told her that I was looking for her and why, so by the time I talked to her, she already knew what information I was looking for. This whole scenario seemed so synchronistic to me and it was all the more amazing because there were around 5000 people living in the ashram. There are always some people I don’t see during my whole visit, and all of these connections were made within a five minute period.
I never know what Amma’s schedule will be when I plan a trip. Her India tour dates are often not announced until a week or two before the event occurs. As it turned out, Amma started her South India tour hours after I boarded the plane for Seattle. Sreejit and Chaitanya were both going on that tour. So, we all left the ashram on the same day. Perfect timing!
Many experiences and lessons were contained within this trip. I visited gardens, farms and fields. Through those experiences, I came to some sense of peace around the fact that not all of the trees, shrubs and ground covers in our Seattle forest restoration project will live. This kind of work is trial and error and will also be affected by weather, soil conditions and many other factors. Whether or not a plant survives is not in my hands. My job is to put in the effort and let go of the results.
My experience with the ants was a challenge that reminded me to “wait, watch and wonder” rather than immediately react. It also gave me the opportunity to practice equanimity. Sometimes I was able to get there and sometimes not.
Being able to witness and participate in the production of the Christmas play, as always, gave me joy. It also reminded me that when we work together great things can be accomplished. I could see how far the cast have come in learning to take whatever comes. No matter the challenge, the participants do what needs to be done and hold on to a positive attitude throughout. Their growth is obvious and their work inspires many.
One of our Seattle satsang members died while I was in Amritapuri. I still can’t believe that is true; it feels surreal. His death reminds me to make every day count.
My respect for the importance of “going with the flow” rather than trying to force things to happen has grown. When I try to force my will, I am likely to exhaust myself and cause myself pain. During the month I was in Amritapuri, there were so many times that a person I needed to talk to walked in front of me moments after I became aware of the need.
Here are some of my favorite memories from this trip. There are so many others that I don’t have photos of, such as my darshans with Amma and time with my family and friends.
Traveling back to Seattle
My trip home would be as long as it always is: a 2 1/2 hour taxi from the ashram to the airport, a 4 hour flight from Trivandrum to Dubai, followed by a 14 1/2 hour flight from Dubai to Seattle. This time I planned to take a LYFT taxi from SeaTac airport to my house.
For several years, I have made the trip more tolerable by taking a long layover in Dubai. During that time, I have stayed at the Dubai International Airport Hotel. It is expensive but the opportunity to sleep, or at least have my feet up, in a quiet room for 15-19 hours has been well worth it.
Sometime during this last year, I heard that Emirates would give me a free hotel and food if I asked for it. They provided the accommodation without question. Having the free hotel turned out to be a mixed blessing though. I hadn’t realized I would have to go through immigration and that took well over an hour. Also, I didn’t know where to go when I got to the baggage claim area. Everyone I asked told me to go to exit 1. When I finally found that exit, and the hotel bus, I was told I should have checked in with someone in the terminal. Luckily, that person brought a group of people to the bus at that moment and I was able to get on the bus.
Once I was at the hotel, there was a very long check in line. The hotel was also very noisy. While I was waiting in the check in line, I decided it was unlikely I would make this choice again. That thought was followed by another; if the hotel room had a bathtub I would consider returning. After a month of cold showers, taking a tub bath would be heavenly. (At Dubai International airport hotel there was only a shower.) One of the first things I saw when I entered the room was the bathtub!
There were more challenges at the hotel than the ones I mentioned above, but the hotel staff were very friendly and the food was excellent. Another challenge occurred when I returned to the airport for my flight to Seattle. After going through immigration again, I looked for a restroom. I was in the old wing of the airport and every restroom had a very long line. I finally found one with a somewhat shorter line at the end of the wing, so joined the line. That restroom ended up having only two stalls. If I had been staying in the airport hotel, I would have been able to stay in my room until it was time to board the plane.
Was the bathtub and the free room and food worth it to me or will I choose to pay more and stay in the airport? Only time will tell.
Greenbelt restoration project
Within five minutes of walking into my house, I changed shoes and went outside to look at the plants in the Greenbelt. They seem to be surviving well. None had been broken by falling branches and the snow didn’t seem to have affected them. I was so excited and eager to start the restoration work again. Our first work party will be on Sunday, January 21.
Even now, I am in the throws of jet lag. I really dislike the experience of turning my night and day around (there is a 13 1/2 hour time difference between India and Seattle). Sometimes I can’t sleep for more than 2-3 hours at a time for many weeks. While my sleep is still disrupted, I think it is going to be shorter this time. I returned to Seattle a week ago today, and last night I slept 5 hours. May that shift continue!
The end and the next beginning
While I could write so much more about this trip, I hope that my posts have given you an idea what it is like to be in Amritapuri. Every trip is filled with adventure, challenge and learning. Even though I’ve only been back in Seattle a week and I’ve been hampered by jet lag, I have had so many experiences since I’ve returned. I look forward to posting about them in the next few days.
To read the previous Amritapuri posts in this series click here.
Yesterday I took on the challenge of removing bindweed (morning glory) and blackberry vines from a thimbleberry shrub.
The bindweed wraps itself around each stem, weighing it down and eventually killing it.
The thimbleberry leaves are beautiful. They have three to seven lobes and are soft and hairy.
I tried to unwind the bindweed from each thimbleberry stem carefully, but the leaves and stems are so fragile that I lost many of them in the process of trying to free them. The stems are now free from blackberry and bindweed vines but I’m going to have to get under the shrub and dig out the blackberry roots to keep it that way. We will probably have to deal with the bindweed every year.
It was fun to watch the stems straighten once they were relieved of the weight of the bindweed. The shrub still looks scraggly but it will fill in and return to the beauty it is meant to be.
The density of the bindweed made it hard to tell where the shrub began and ended. The area towards the back had a much thicker layer of bindweed.
As I started to cut it away, I realized that it wasn’t thumbleberry that was under it, it was a gigantic fern. With renewed energy, I started cutting away the bindweed. Before long, the fern was free!
I love doing this work. It is full of mystery and adventure and is so rewarding.
When I was showing a friend around our Greenbelt restoration project on May 25, she saw a red flower in the distance. It was too far away, and too covered by invasive plants, to know what it was. We guessed it was a rhododendron flower. (Mystery in the Making).
At the time, I was in the midst of preparing for Amma’s programs so wasn’t able to make my way to the flower. Last Saturday, I decided to do whatever it took to get close. I gathered my tools and headed for the thicket. I took the photo above just before I began to cut my way through the dead branches, blackberry vines, laurel, ivy, and downed trees.
As I worked, I realized how much I missed the excitement of freeing the trees in the Greenbelt and discovering what was under the mass of invasive plants. Most of our recent work has been to dig out blackberry root balls from areas where blackberry vines have been cut down.
Every so often I looked up to see how close I was to the red flowers.
I progressed much faster than I expected. At one point, I realized that a branch I cut was not laurel, it was a rhododendron branch. Soon I saw more rhododendron branches.
There is a steep slope along the eastern border of the property. For liability reasons, the City of Seattle does not allow us to work on slopes that steep. I noticed that the rhododendron was on the last piece of flat land before the slope began. I continued on my way, getting ever closer to my goal.
Closer and closer.
And then I was there. I knew there was no way I was going to free the whole bush, at least not on that day, but I was able to touch one of the flowers. I wish the photo was clearer but I’m glad that I have it. I realized if I had waited much longer to solve this mystery, all of the petals would have fallen off.
I looked up and saw this sight.
I also enjoyed seeing the rest of the bush.
There were so many branches, going every direction. They reminded me of a pretzel.
When I looked through the thicket, I thought I saw more rhododendron bushes. I wonder what other discoveries await me. I look forward to the time when we focus on clearing that part of the Greenbelt. For now, though, I will go back to digging out blackberry root balls!
July 2000: On my way to a Sundance in southern Alberta, I see a red building on my right. Something about the building grabs my attention so intensely that I U-turn on the highway. I must explore what is there. The place is a wolf haven, and I spend time petting wolves through a chain link fence.
July 2000: I am giving a new friend from Alberta a ride back to Seattle. I talk about the place and the wolves. Wolf Haven was closed when we got there. I am disappointed.
April 2008: I am on spring break from college and meeting a friend in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for a week. One day it is snowing, and we decide to drive out to the country, to watch the snow, share our stories from the past year, and sit in silence staring at the mountains across the way. On our left, we both see a lone wolf, trotting across the snow covered field. As we continue to watch, the wolf stops and stares at us for what seems like 20 minutes. We sit in silence watching back..
April 2015: I am in Yellowstone National Park. Along with lots of snow from a fresh spring storm, I see wolves ‘being’ themselves in their environment. I watch, mouth open catching flies… Well if a fly could live in that temperature, I would have caught multiple. I am in awe of how natural the wolves seem.
June 2016:. I see a Facebook post from a friend and text her, saying her radiance was showing in the picture and asking where the photo was taken. She responded with a location and shared a bit of the impact of her experience.
November 2016: I booked an hour at Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Center, the place my friend had named.
December 31, 2016: It was 5 degrees when I arrived in the mountains, snow and ice on the ground, a clear blue sky and the sun was just starting to make its way over the nearest of the eastern mountains. As I walked up, I did not see any wolves, but could hear them howling in the distance and then the echo of the howl on the hills around me. Somewhat surreal to my experience, my mind started thinking of safety, along with flashes of horror movies and bloody bodies laying in the woods while being torn to shreds by wild animals.
Luckily for me, the walk was a short distance and a nice person greeted me, taking me out of the next Stephen King thriller my mind was creating. Of course there was the paperwork; just in case I was attacked. There were ferrets and a rooster running around greeting people; the building was warm and full of wolf items.
I listened to the staff say to me: the wolves are not dogs, do not hug them, grab their face and kiss them, or rough-house with them; they will react as if you are their size and power and that could be dangerous.
The first pack: Once I sat down on the ground, face level with the first pack, everything disappeared that did not need to be in my world at that moment. I was fully present to every breath, movement, posture, nudge, or growl from each wolf and each gesture had its meaning. I was not cold or concerned for my safety.
I have to be honest. One thing concerned me, and that was how they greet each other, and that greeting would also include me. The process is the equivalent of a human handshake; the wolves greet each other by sticking their tongues into each others mouths, and trying to touch the tonsils.
It took me three tries before I would let a partially wild animal get that close, i.e tongue in the mouth close. First try, the Alpha male comes over, sniffs my hand and arm, then goes for the tongue action. I keep my lips together and kiss him on the cheek like I would a friend.
The wolf walked off. Being the kind wolf that he is, and with some luck, he came back about 5 minutes later and tried it again. Still, I could only part my lips a tiny bit, and did not let his tongue in. I then notice the wolf seem to make a sigh and sit just far enough away from me that I could not physically connect with him. A few minutes went by, and the same wolf gave me another chance. No other wolves had come close to me.
Internally, I agreed to go for it. I told myself, how bad could it be… maybe just some small raw animal parts, a piece of stick or bone stuck to his tongue, and the possibility of having part of my face taken off by sharp and giant teeth.
Luckily for me, none of that happened. In fact, the wolf’s tongue was not slimy, not gross, no after taste, and he was very gentle so as not to bang teeth. I thought to myself, I have kissed a few women with worse tasting tongues. Somewhere in the faraway distance, I could hear one of the two staff giving instructions, although I somewhat failed to follow them and was guided by intuition.
(Click galleries to enlarge photos.)
When meeting the second pack, I was told not to get down to the level of the alpha male, as he is known for trying to top everyone.
Remember the rules I spoke about earlier, I broke them all. The first thing I did was grab the alpha wolf by the face and kiss him. Then, when he pushed against me, I gave him a big hug and kissed him again. I played with him like I would a regular dog. Sometime after the hug, I could hear the staff telling me, ‘apparently you guys know each other’ and not to worry about being topped.
We, the alpha male and I, rubbed, nudged, and pushed a bit back and forth. Later he allowed me to rub his belly and front legs. That is when I about pissed my pants. The alpha male started growling at me and showing his teeth. I yanked my hands away from him so fast. Even if it were a rattlesnake, I would not have been bitten.
The Wolf and Wildlife Center staff chuckled and informed me, the wolf was letting me know he liked what I was doing. Still shaken a bit, I informed them, that when someone growls and shows their teeth, I typically stop the behavior and move away. I was then encouraged to start rubbing him again in the same way, and he growled and snarled the entire time. Once I understood his communication style, I felt less nervous. Still, it took me a few minutes to relax. Wolves have big teeth and deep growls…. Just saying!
For my last 25 minutes, I had the option of seeing wolf puppies or another pack of adults. Of course I chose puppies. I mean come on, who doesn’t want to see puppies. When we arrived, I found out these were 80-90 pound sister and brother puppies who were eight months old!
The moment I sat down with them, I had two playful wolf puppies kissing me in their traditional way, then stealing my Seahawks hat; by the way, stealing my hat means means the wolves are Seahawks fans…(wink). They then stole my hair tie by gently pulling it out of my hair with their teeth. They tried to try to take anything that was loose on my clothing.
The staff started to get nervous that they might tear my coat, or ruin something. I wasn’t nervous, I was laughing and loving the playfulness of youth, the exploration of boundaries and their trust of me. Here are two kids wanting to play. I chose to wear what I wore, and be involved with them. How could I then get upset? I couldn’t.
Sadly it was time to leave, and my time with these wonderfully loving creatures would be over for now. Once I exited the area and returned to my truck, I started the motor, put the truck in gear and noticed something. I had no energy to leave, to drive, or to converse with others. My mind and body were silent. I had no want. There was no internal voice on either shoulder talking to me. My experience was “I am”.
Once I returned to the world of fast moving cars, Starbucks, and snowy Colorado mountain roads, I realized how similar my experience was to the many times I have received Amma’s darshan (hug).
When I walked into Seattle’s Lincoln Park for my Tai Chi class yesterday, a dark green tree caught my eye. (It looked MUCH bigger in reality than it does in the photograph.) I wondered if the tree might be a possible subject for this week’s The Daily Post challenge- Weekly Photo Challenge: Frame. After the class, I returned to that area to take a photo and see what was on the other side of the foliage.
What I discovered when I walked into the foliage was that the dark green wasn’t from a single tree, it was from many. And there was indeed a frame. The frame made a complete circle, a circle that included the dark green foliage as well as the leaves from many trees that had lighter leaves.
Walking inside the frame was like walking through a magical land.
Soon, I noticed that there was a frame within the frame. It was comprised of a group of trees surrounding a pile of raked-up needles, branches and leaves which in turn were framed by the green foliage on the perimeter.
I continued to walk the magical land. Moments later, I found another frame in a frame. This time it was a tree that was being framed by other trees.
And then I saw another tall tree that was framed by smaller trees.
After leaving that segment, I saw a sight that took my breath away. I felt like I was viewing the Mother/Father/Guardian of the whole area. It stood like a giant, towering above all of the other trees.
(As I write this post and remember the experience, I think that the name Guardian fits the best.)
My journey had come to its end. I looked around the magical land, feeling very grateful for this blessed adventure.
After walking out of the outer frame, I turned around and saw that the Guardian itself was framed by the greenery.
Last week, when I removed an overgrown chive plant from my garden, I discovered it had been covering two snails. One appeared to be missing a big part of its shell and mucous was pouring out of that area. It looked like the other snail was eating the mucous. When I separated them, the wounded one didn’t move but the other one did. I followed its movement taking photographs along the way.
Notice in the photos below that the snail is approaching a crevice in the piece of concrete.
Turning to the right.
And then pulling his shell up.
He has almost made it to the top.
As I continued to watch, I decided to follow him by video.
You are about to enter a snail’s world. [The snail you see at the very end of the first video is the wounded snail. The snail from the photographs above is the star of the first video (47 seconds) and all of the second one (2.59 minutes).]
I thought he was headed in a particular direction but I was wrong!
After about 20 minutes, the wounded snail began to show signs of life. In time it started on its own journey. So was it really wounded? If not, had they been mating?
I looked for information and videos on snail mating but nothing that was described or shown looked like what I had seen. There is so much I don’t know. I appreciate the glimpse into the wonders of nature that this experience has given me.
After Brenda and I left New York City, we drove to Pennsylvania. We spent the day looking for work and finally found a job, on trial, for $1.50 an hour. The housing they provided was for men so we stayed in a campground.
The owner was very unsure about hiring girls but we turned out to be better pickers than the teenage boys he employed. Since he paid by the hour, they did as little work as they could get away with.
We picked peaches and nectarines for four days. One day we also worked in the evening in the packing house. The other nights I was asleep by 7:30 p.m.
I was amused by something that happened on this job. The owner was moderately conservative; very conservative about some things. Little did he know that he had a gigantic field of marijuana growing on the edge of his orchard. There were also marijuana plants scattered throughout his orchard. The kids spent more time harvesting the marijuana than they did picking his fruit. They thoroughly enjoyed THAT work!
If he only knew……..
After leaving Pennsylvania we drove on to Yakima in Washington State. Once there, we found a job with no problem; a job picking fuzzy peaches yet again!
Finding housing in Yakima was much more difficult because the state had condemned all housing that didn’t have a toilet, running water, stove and refrigerator. Most farmers couldn’t afford to provide for that level of accommodation, so there was almost no housing available.
Local people rented their yards to the migrants, at a rate of $5 a night. That seemed to us to be a big racket, especially since most of the workers and their families slept in their cars. [Note: As I think how little money we earned on these jobs, I’m realizing what a big chunk of it that $5 would have taken.]
We finally found a place to live. It was somewhat like a motel. Having a room that had a stove and a bathroom felt like unbelievable luxury!
We picked peaches for four days. We were paid the same wages in Washington State as everywhere else.
My college roommate visited us while we were there and for two days the three of us studied together for our nursing licensing exams.
One day, when we were driving around, we saw this new living area for migrant farm laborers.
I also found the bridge I had slept under when I had gone to Yakima to pick fruit while I was in college.
After our time in Yakima, we returned to Seattle. I ended my summer adventure with this scrapbook entry.
I had been surprised by the amount of racism we experienced that summer. After all, it was 1970 not 1950. Brenda and I decided we should share our story with others. We contacted a local newspaper and gave them an interview. This is the article the newspaper published. (My name at that time was Carol Smith!)
In the article, I said that in the future I wanted to spend a summer with one migrant group. While I never did that, my 1970 experience has stayed very close to my heart for the last 45 years.
With that statement, this series now comes to an end. Thank you for sharing my journey with me. I hope that you enjoyed it and had a sense of what our life was like as we crossed the country in 1970 working as migrant farm laborers.
The Atlanta International Pop Festival was over at 10 a.m. Monday so we packed up, hitched a ride to our car and were off by 11:30. We decided to drive about 60 miles north, clean up and look for a job. When we got out of the car to pay our fee at a state campground, the ranger informed us that we could not camp there unless we had an adult chaperon. Since we were between 19 and 22 years of age, I was flabbergasted. He wouldn’t even let us wash up. He said this would be true in any state campground. His last remark was, “Lady, this is Georgia!”
We drove to another campground 20 miles away. They registered us without blinking an eye.
We showered and then drove to Griffin. The Farm Labor office was closed so we went to a grocery store to shop. As we pulled into the parking lot, we realized that some young back men and women were picketing the store. We asked them where they suggested we shop. They answered our question and then one man asked if we had come from the festival. When we said yes, he smiled and responded, “We like you people.” What a difference from the first park ranger!
The next day we drove around looking for work. It was not an easy task. The white farmers weren’t about to let us work with black pickers and they weren’t even nice about it.
One person suggested that we go to the farmers’ market in Atlanta, so we did. We applied for work at the office and then set up our camp stove in an empty stall. A truck driver and a younger guy came over and talked with us and then Brenda took out her guitar and we sang. Pretty soon another man, whom we found out later was a fruit inspector, came over and joined us.
When the office had not called us by 9 am, we decided to go look for a job ourselves. We were successful in that endeavor.
Brenda and I sold watermelons from 11:30-4:00. That night we slept in the back of the watermelon truck. The next morning the truck driver and his friend took us to breakfast and then we worked from 10:00-3:00.
While working at the farmers market, we ran into a new problem. Many of the white farmers assumed that white girls doing this kind of work were prostitutes and we were continually being propositioned. If we had wanted to, we could have made a fortune. By 3:00 we were sick of dealing with the men and took off.
Numerous people told us if we wanted to pick peaches, we should go to Fort Valley. The fruit inspector even gave us the names of some people to talk to when we got there.
We arrived in Ft. Valley about 6 pm and went directly to the Farm Labor office. I had a sense that if they knew we had gone to the festival, we would have been escorted out of town. We were told they would help us find a job, but it would not be picking. They also said they would help us find a place to stay. The apartment they arranged for us was fantastic. It was a garage apartment on the edge of town. There were two bedrooms plus a large living room and a kitchen. It was completely furnished. Our rent was $20 a week.
After we unpacked the car, Mimi and I headed for a laundromat. There was a 13 year-old white girl there who told us a lot about the festival even though she had not attended. If everyone believed the same things she did, it was no wonder they hated hippies. According to her, the hippies had “stripped naked in car washes, in grocery stores, in back seats of cars, and who knows where else.” While we were in the laundromat, a black man came in and put his clothes in the dryer. The girl had a fit. She made a nasty comment and then rushed to get her laundry and ran out the door. I was so angry by the time I left the laundromat, I was shaking. I had a sense that if I had spoken to the man, his life and ours could have been in danger.
The next day, we went job hunting. There were no jobs at the packing house, cannery or brewery so we decided to go to the fields and ask the black pickers where they thought we could get a job. They were thoroughly shocked at our inquiry, but were very nice. They told us where we could catch the pickers’ bus the next day.
The next morning we were on the bus, headed for the fields. The workers that filled the bus were, for the most part, younger than us. I heard a girl tell an older man that no, she did not respect him. She said that was what was wrong with the world; too much respect and too much waiting.
We arrived at the fields about 9:00 am. The whole bus load of us were told that we were too late and sent home. After we returned to the parking lot, we sat around and talked with the people. A few white policemen passed by which made me nervous but I decided to ignore them.
After a while, we decided to talk to the farm labor office staff again. We were told the cannery was hiring a third shift. We returned to the cannery but didn’t make it past the gate. We did go back to the bus parking lot to tell the pickers they were hiring at the cannery. As we started to drive away, a policeman stopped us and got out of his car. His words, “They want you at the cannery.” It had only been five minutes since we had left the cannery, but when we returned, they hired us.
Our shift would be 8 pm to 3 am starting that night. The woman who talked to us said her husband had bet her $5 that we wouldn’t last more than two days.
The first day, we worked 8:00 to 1:30 am and then picked fruit from 7 am to 1 pm. We were working with kids who were 13-16 years old. I really enjoyed myself.
I made $2.40 at the picking job. We were picking from trees where the fruit had been harvested before, so we earned less than we might have otherwise.
The cannery work was interesting. We were assigned to work on the machines that put the peaches into the cans and sealed them. Mimi and I were on one machine; Brenda and Laura on another. Our job was to make sure the cans were filled appropriately, both in quality and quantity. The fruit came to us at a rate of 120 peaches a minute. The cans also had to be the right weight, so we added or took away a peach as needed.
Brenda and I studied for our licensing exams as we worked. We hung our notes on the canning machine. That really surprised our foreman. He couldn’t believe we could study and work at the same time but we did and he allowed it.
We soon discovered it was a horrible, smelly job. We stood still for seven hours in water filled with peach juice. It was impossible to get the juice off of our shoes. Our shoe laces stood straight up and had a putrid smell.
The working conditions were unbelievable:
Everyone worked eight to ten hours a day, seven days a week. If anyone missed one day, they were fired. There was no overtime pay.
Everyone worked eight to ten hours a day with only one ten minute break; no dinner.
No one was paid when the machines weren’t working, which could be as much as four hours a shift. If anyone left, they were fired.
A few days later we decided go picking after work. We didn’t get home until 6 pm. At work that night we were told the shifts were now going to be eight hours long and our shift would be the one to start the new schedule. That meant we had to work until 6 a.m. We were hurting so bad by the end of the shift as we had been on our feet about 36 hours.
It was interesting to note that night shift workers were almost all black and the day shift was 100% white except for the black men who did the dirty work.
We quickly tired of working in the cannery. We were ready to move on, but had committed to five more days of work.
Our bosses had been really nice to us but they didn’t know what to think about us. In fact, the whole town couldn’t figure us out. I think everyone knew where we were from, what kind of car we drove and where we were living. I believe we left good impressions everywhere we’d been, except for the first Georgia state ranger.
Saturday night of our last week, the generator in the place we were living blew out and the electricity went off. Within two minutes we were off to Macon to see a movie. We hadn’t planned to go that far. We had gone to Byron and asked where the theater was. The response we heard was, “Lady, you got to be kidding.” So we went on to Macon and saw “Two Mules for Sister Sara.” It was a good movie. We made it back to work as the first whistle blew.
Sunday night we sat and talked with Larry, our boss, after our shift was over. We really liked him. He gave us each an empty peach can as a souvenir! The cannery canned under many different labels. The one he picked for us was “Pride of Georgia!”
I knew it would be a long time before I ate another canned peach. (Among other things they soaked the peaches in lye to remove the skins. The machines we ran bubbled over with lye that had not been completely washed off.)
When we went to work on Monday night we were told that the entire night shift had been laid off. Hallelujah! That night we composed two songs.
To the tune of “The ants go marching one by one.”
The cans go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah (x 3)
Eight more hours before we’re done
The cans go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah
All the peaches fell in my shoe
The cans go marching …
I close my eyes and that’s all I see
The cans go marching …
I can hardly wait till I’m out the door
The cans go marching …
It’s hard to believe I’m still alive
The cans go marching …
And I sure hope the next one sticks
The cans go marching …
What will I do, it’s only eleven?
The cans go marching …
While I stand here and curse my fate
The cans go marching …
I sure wish they were filled with wine
The cans go marching …
Tomorrow night we will do it again
And to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”
Rotten rotten little peach
Will you tell me I beseech
How past all these eyes you came?
With the rest though not the same.
In my can you’ll not be found
So I’ll throw you on the ground
But alas, you’re out of reach
Someone gets a rotten peach
The next day we left Fort Valley. We had had a good experience, but swore we would never work in a cannery again. Next stop: South Carolina!
[Note: Many years later, I saw a small article in the Seattle newspaper talking about a cannery in Georgia that had been shut down because of violations. Yes, it was the cannery where we worked!]
The next post in this series will be published on Friday December 18.