1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #3 (Working in Georgia)

CanneryThe 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.

2015-11-24 09.26.47
These peach stained study sheets are 45 years old!

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.

To read the previous posts go to:

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer (Series Intro)
1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #1  (Seattle to Florida)
1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #2 (Atlanta International Pop Festival)

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #2 (Atlanta International Pop Festival)

After a good night’s sleep, we said goodbye to my parents and then 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 the hot canvas tent in Florida, so ended up sharing a tarp with some people we met.

Pop festival

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.

Pop festival 6

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!

 

[Note: My scrapbook says there were 200,000 people at the festival.  Wikipedia said that the estimates varied from 250,000 to 600,000!  Their article contains a lot of interesting information.]

 

(The next post in this series will be published on Friday December 11.)

To read the previous posts go to:

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer (Series Intro)

1970: My Migrant Farm Labor Summer #1  (Seattle to Florida)

 

 

 

 

 

 

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #1 (From Seattle to Florida)

1 pump

 

There were times during my college years that I picked fruit as a way of making some money. I remember picking blueberries in Seattle and apples in Yakima. I also remember sleeping under a bridge when I picked in Yakima. I enjoyed doing the outside, physical work.

I graduated with a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree in June of 1970. I would not be able to take my licensing exams until September so I wanted to do something very different than nursing until I took the exams. Three friends and I decided to travel around the U.S. doing migrant farm labor. Brenda, who would also be taking the licensing exams, and I planned to also do a lot of studying during that time.

Over the next six weeks, I will be publishing posts about our experiences that summer.  The content comes from a scrapbook I wrote soon after the trip was over.

Scrapbook

June 9, 1970

Mimi, Laura, Brenda and I left Seattle planning to spend the summer doing migrant farm labor. Our first destination was West Palm Beach, Florida where my parents lived. We planned to surprise them on their 25th wedding anniversary.

The rest stop where we ate our first meal had a river and beautiful scenery in back of us but in front there was an automobile junk yard! We were very cold but having fun.

Ready to Start!

The second night out it was pouring. This was the first time all four of us slept in the Datsun.

4 in Datsun

Early the next morning, we had car trouble. The radiator hose broke, resulting in a burned out head gasket. We found ourselves stranded in Plankinton, South Dakota, 250 miles from nowhere. The population of the town was 500. [As I was typing this, I was curious and decided to check out how much Plankinton has grown since 1970. I learned that in 2013 there were 715 people living in the town!]

Main Street of Plankinton
Main Street of Plankinton

Through the help of a minister, we were able to find someone to fix our car and a place stay, the minister’s church basement. Our car was supposed to be fixed by the next day, but due to Greyhound losing three different head gaskets, we were to be in Plankinton for seven days, long past my parents’ anniversary.

The church basement was great; it had a kitchen and everything else we needed. The only problem was that the minister went on vacation without telling anyone he said we could stay there. On the second night, we received a visit from the sheriff. Luckily, once he found out why we were in the church, he was fine with us staying.

Plankinton was very boring though. The theater was available only on Saturday night, and it was filled with a million kids. The teenagers amused themselves by driving up and down main street or by watching everyone else driving up and down main street. We could swim for 50 cents per person.

We are bored!
We are bored!

There was plenty of chance for us to read and study though.

We started worrying about our mental status when, during meals, we found ourselves stripping membranes from the inside of eggs and looking at the fountains that spurted up when we squeezed lemon peels.

Our mechanic, Al, took the car apart on the day we arrived. Once the part he needed arrived, he worked from 10 am to 3 pm and the following day he worked on it from 6 am to 2pm. He only billed us $14 for his labor. Sure was great to meet friendly people.

Our Mechanic, Al
Al

Finally, we left Plankinton and headed on. We drove straight to Florida, making only one stop….to visit a friend. We arrived at my Aunt Muriel’s house early on Sunday morning.

We sure surprised mom when we showed up at church. Dad was happy to see us too. They didn’t seem to be upset when they found out our plans for the summer. I was surprised.

We soon had car problems again. This time we were broke, so we spent a week washing windows, cleaning houses and porches, and selling flowers. We earned $100!

Selling flowers

We had planned to do our migrant work across the south of the U.S., but my Uncle Ted advised us to work up the east coast instead. I thought he had a better idea of what we would be facing than anyone else, so we decided to heed his advice.

One day, mom drove us to Belle Glade. We soon discovered that we would be able to work there picking oranges. We went back to West Palm Beach to get ready for our first job. A couple of days later, we headed back to Belle Glade!

Ready to Start!

We had borrowed my parents’ old heavy canvas tent. A man in a nearby campsite gave us some extra rope and a stake. He said he thought that we were living in substandard housing and wanted to help.

Canvas tent

That first night was miserable. We were inside a canvas tent in hot weather. To make it worse we needed to sleep in hot sleeping bags in order to keep away from the mosquitoes.  The tent was useless. I finally got two hours of sleep by sleeping on the hood of the car.

The next morning, we were up at 5 a.m., in the dark. We drove to the place where we would board the bus that would take us to the fields. The bus was there when we arrived and it was already packed with pickers. We were the only white people on the bus. Everyone kept asking us, “Have you got a man yet?” We were startled by the question and didn’t know what to say. We soon discovered that everyone picked the oranges in pairs, because the ladders were 20 feet long. Each pair consisted of one woman and one man.

We arrived at the orange field at 7:30 a.m. By the time it was 4:30 pm, I was so tired; my body ached through and through. My partner Joe and I had filled seven bins. We were paid for our work at 6:00 pm and were back at our campsite in Belle Glade at 8:00 pm. On the second day, we again picked 7 bins of oranges. On the third day, Brenda picked with Joe and me. We tired much faster this day. We only filled 6 bins even though three of us were working.

The people we worked with were so nice. They knew the third day was our last, and they all wished us luck. Joe gave us a whole chest of fish to take home.   That day, two tiny birds had fallen from the tree. We put them in a hat and took them home so my brother Bill could take care of them.

We arrived at my parents’ house at 7 pm. We were so filthy that they wouldn’t let us sit on anything.

The income we each made from our three days of work varied.  The person who made the least earned $17; the one who made the most earned $31. We estimated that we had earned one cent for every 30 oranges we picked.

We were ready to leave Florida. Next stop- the Atlanta International Pop Festival!

 

(The next post in this series will be published on Friday December 4.)

 

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer (Series)

Migrant worker- me!

One of the most important times of my life was the summer I spent doing migrant farm labor across the United States. It is a treasured experience, one that contributed significantly to making me the person I am today.

During fall of 2015, I was looking through the scrapbook I put together  after that summer. It occurred to me that I could share the whole story of that journey, primarily using the words I wrote in 1970.

Below you will find the links to each post in the series.

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #1 (From Seattle to Florida)

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #2 (Atlanta International Pop Festival)

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #3 (Working in Georgia)

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #4 (Working in South Carolina)

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #5 (Maryland and New Jersey)

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #6 Series End (Pennsylvania and Washington State)

I hope you enjoy the series.

 

And So It Begins…….

2015-11-15 11.34.48

My spiritual teacher, Mata Amritanandamayi, who is more commonly referred to as Amma, visits cities across North America each summer and then returns to offer programs in San Ramon, California and Michigan each November. I have not attended her November programs for several years since they are so close to the time when I take my yearly sojourn to her ashram in India. In fact, I often depart for India when Amma is still in Michigan.

It has been three or four years since I’ve been to the Michigan programs and I haven’t been to either the summer or the fall programs in San Ramon for six to eight years. I was surprised a month ago when I felt the strong desire to participate in the first two days of the November meetings in San Ramon. The desire stayed with me, so I booked my plane ticket and reserved a hotel room.

I had several goals:

  • Spend time with Amma and receive her darshan (hug).
  • See the changes that have taken place in her San Ramon ashram
  • Walk the land
  • Visit with the many friends I have in Amma’s community
  • Be open to any learning opportunities that emerged

Time with Amma is always filled with so many experiences and it often seems like time is suspended.  So even though I would only be there for two days, it would no doubt feel like a week.  Whenever I am in Amma’s presence, life lessons seem to speed up and so many synchronicities occur.  I looked forward to discovering what would happen on this trip.

I am writing this post after having returned from the San Ramon programs.  I could write several chapters of a book about my experiences, but have decided to tell you my adventures in walking the land!

In the years since I was last in San Ramon, my life has taken a turn. I have become much more focused on Mother Nature. My eyes have opened and I now see things I never saw before, or at least I see them in a different way.

I knew that Amma had asked the San Ramon devotees to plant orchards on the property, so seeing those was definitely a priority. When I got out of the car on my first day, I looked across the parking lot and saw that there was a big orchard in the distance, nestled in the hills.

I arrived at the ashram several hours before Amma would come to the program hall so I decided to visit that orchard first. I asked a friend how to get their and he gave me a vague idea of how to find the path.

I followed those directions and found a path of sorts. As I made my way through the forest, there were times when fallen trees blocked my path. I crawled over or under them and continued on.  (Note: If you click on any of the picture galleries, the photos will be enlarged.)

Taking this kind of walk reminded me of playing in the woods near my home when I lived on an army base in Germany as a child. Those were some of the happiest times of my childhood.

As I made my way towards an orchard I couldn’t see, I kept the vision of my first glimpse of the fruit trees in front of me. As I walked, I could see small portions of parked cars through the trees from time to time. I realized I was near some of the new parking lots, so felt assured I was going the right direction.

When I came out of the wooded area, I discovered there was a road going from the parking lot to the orchards. If I had known about it I would have reached my destination much faster, but I would have missed the journey and so much beauty.

Soon I arrived at the orchard. It covers quite a large area and was impossible to photograph in its entirety. It is late fall now so the trees look very different than they would have looked in spring and summer, but they were still a welcome sight to see.

Later that day, I explored the orchard that is between the main ashram house and the temple. There have been fruit trees in that location for many years, but now that area is totally devoted to the orchard and some solar panels.

My second, and biggest, “Walk the Land” adventure happened the following day. Around 11:00 a.m., I decided I wanted to walk from the main house to the house where Amma stays. I have taken that journey many times in the past, but not for years. It is some distance away so I thought it would take about forty-five minutes to get there and back.

It had rained during the night so there were areas of the path that were a bit muddy but it was still easy to walk on. There are many different types of terrain on that route and it was so beautiful. At one point, I saw another woman standing near a gully in front of me. I stopped and talked with her for a while and then continued on my way.

At one point, I decided the house was further than I wanted to go on that day. I decided I would only walk until I was at the point where I could see the house.

2015-11-15 11.50.22

Once there, I turned around and headed back to the main ashram.

All was well until I reached the place where I had met the woman. At that point, I could no longer see a path. I had been distracted by talking with her and had not focused on any landmarks.

I found what could have been the path and took it, but it soon ended. I tried one “path” after another but they went nowhere. I was finding myself in areas where the land was wetter and I started slipping in the mud. I slid whether I was going up or going down.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t told anyone I was taking this walk, and that was a mistake. I had my cell phone so I could make a call, if there was phone reception, but otherwise no one would have any idea where I was. Anyone looking for me would just assume I had returned to my hotel.

What to do? Take one step at a time and keep moving forward. Try one route and then another. Deal with whatever comes up.

My shoes were caked with mud, making me slip even more.  I decided to let go of any concern that my clothes stayed clean. When I needed to, I scooted downhill on my bottom or crawled where I wanted to go on my hands and knees.

I remembered my years of going to Christ in the Desert monastery in Abiquiu, New Mexico. That monastery was 13 miles from the main highway and in those days the road to it was made of dirt. One side of the road was against a hill and on the other side there was a steep drop off. When it rained, the road became very slippery. One time I visited, the mud was so deep that it totally filled the tread of the tires. We swerved on that slippery surface as if we were driving on bald tires.

I realized that same thing had happened to my shoes. While the shoes didn’t have tread and were mostly smooth even when dry, they did have some small ridges. Remembering my experience with the tires, I sat down on the wet leaves, took off my shoes, pounded them against the earth and then used a twig to scrape off the thick mud. I was able to walk a little better after doing that.

After many more dead ends, I found myself face to face with a hill that went straight up. I probably remember it as being much higher than it actually was, but it was high enough that I had no idea what was on the other side. It seemed fruitless for me to continue walking on the lower ground, so I contemplated going up the hill. How would I do that though? The side of the hill was primarily made of wet clay, with some sporadic clumps of grass.  I just slipped down it when I tried to climb.

I then recalled hearing that mountain climbers get up mountains by making holes where they can place their hands and feet and use those holes to boost themselves up the mountain one step at a time. I found that the clay was malleable so I started creating holes for my hands and feet. I did not look up and I did not look down.  I focused only on making the holes and taking one step after the other. In that way, I moved up the steep hill.

I had no idea where I was, so didn’t know what I would find when I made it to the top. Once there, I was relieved to discover I was still on the ashram grounds.  I was quite a distance from where I started, but I knew how to get back to the beginning of the path and did so.

Many years ago, my daughter had a challenging experience. After it was over, I asked if she had been afraid. She said, “No, I felt like Indiana Jones!” During this adventure, a part of me also felt like Indiana Jones, and I loved the sensation.  It was as if I had been tested, and emerged victorious!

I recognized that throughout the challenge I had stayed true to so many of the attitudes I do my best to live by.

  • Focus on the moment, not the future
  • Live in awareness.
  • Take one step at a time.
  • Have faith.
  • Trust that my life is unfolding as it should.
  • Realize that the lessons I have learned in the past have prepared me for challenges I face in the present.
  • Believe that I can deal with whatever happens

As I said at the beginning of this post, there were many other special moments during my two days with Amma but these are the one I have chosen to share. I will be leaving for Amma’s India ashram soon, and know that my days there will be filled with lessons.  My time in San Ramon seems like the beginning of my next India adventure, thus my title for this post, “And so it begins……”

 

(Note: This post was not written with the Weekly Photo Challenge: Victory in mind, but it certainly fits the criteria so I will use it for that purpose as well!)

 

In Hindsight Was It A Mistake?

mistake-clipart-Mistakes

The directions for this week’s Dungeon Prompt were:

All of our mistakes have made us into the people that we are today, and so this is not meant to be an exercise in regret, but rather a fun look back with the thought, “that was maybe not such a great idea.”  Tell us about a past exploit of your younger, less wise self.

It only took seconds for me to know what I would be sharing!

I moved from Florida to Washington State in 1966 to go to a conservative Christian school named Seattle Pacific College. Months before I arrived, the administration had granted students the privilege of being able to go to movie theaters. The school still had rules against wearing pants on campus, except on Saturdays, and they didn’t allow students to play cards, dance, or drink alcohol.

I believe it was sometime early in 1968 when I decided to become a volunteer at the First Avenue Service Center.  That was a place where the homeless men and women from “skid row” could wash their clothes, bathe and have a place to hang out during the day.

I have no memory of how I found the Center but I loved being there. I talked with the people who frequented it and tried to bring some light into their days.  I played a lot of pinochle with them even though I knew my college would not approve; pinochle was a major past-time for those who gathered at the Center.  At some point, I wrote a letter to my mother saying something along the line of “Oh mom, I am meeting so many interesting people. I am getting to know ex-cons, drug addicts, drag queens, and prostitutes!”

I was very surprised when my mother wasn’t as excited about my adventure as I was. In fact, she told me she would be sending me a plane ticket home! I had no intention of leaving Seattle or the Center. While I don’t remember what happened next, since I never received the plane ticket, she must not have followed through on her threat. And I didn’t leave the Center.

My involvement with those people was not confined to my volunteer time.  I would hang out with some of them outside of the Center as well.  At one point, I started dating a young man who was a heroin addict. I was madly in love with him and did everything I could to spend time with him. To his credit, and my luck, he never asked me to get high with him. I had no interest in using any kind of drugs even though it was the 60’s. I just loved hanging out with him. I was so co-dependent though. If he wanted me to drive him somewhere I did it. I remember being so eager to see him that I drove back to Seattle non-stop after I had finished a summer job in New Mexico. The first thing he did upon my arrival was ask me to drive him to Portland … then … and I did it.

I didn’t know anything about co-dependency in those days, I just knew I was meeting fascinating people and my life was full of adventure. He eventually lost interest in me and took off.  Looking back, I believe that he never considered me to be his girlfriend.  I think I was mainly a chauffeur and he let me tag along at other times.

In hindsight, was it wise for a naive 19 or 20 year old to be volunteering at a place like that? Was it appropriate for me to be hanging out with “ex-cons, drug addicts, drag queens and prostitutes” outside of the Center?  Was my “dating” a heroin addict a mistake? I would answer “No” to all of those questions, although I have to admit as I am writing this blog post, I am wavering on those answers a bit.

Would I want my daughter to have the experiences I had?  I’d answer “Yes” in regards to some of them, but definitely not to all of them. I put myself into some very dangerous places and painful situations. Did I make mistakes?  Yes I did, but I learned from them.  And as Sreejit said in the prompt directions, everything that happened during that period of my life contributed to making me the person I am today.

I still remember a few of the people I met in those days. And the lessons I learned then allow me to do a much better job of keeping myself safe now. I also have a lot more compassion for my mother than I did at that time. I can certainly understand why she would react to my letter by telling me she would be sending me a plane ticket home!

Later in my life, I met my spiritual teacher, Amma.  When I asked her for a spiritual name she named me Karuna.  Karuna means compassion.  I think that my sense of compassion and my adventurous spirit really blossomed and came to fruition during the year or so I volunteered at the First Avenue Service Center.  I don’t have any regrets.

Photo Credit:  Clipart Panda

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

The empty lot behind my house is generally completely overgrown with blackberry vines.  Over the years, they have damaged and even killed trees, so occasionally I clear away as many of the vines as I can.  Two days ago, I hired a friend to help with the clearing.  He did an amazing amount of work during the four or five hours he was there.

The lot is on a steep hill.  At one point, he and I noticed that there were some yellow daffodils towards the bottom of the lot.  They were beautiful and it was intriguing to see them rising out of the mass of dried blackberry vines.  They looked bigger to us than they do in the picture below.

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During the next hours, I couldn’t get them out of my mind.  If they were this big from a distance, what would they look like if I was closer?  As evening approached, I decided to plant some potato starts in one area where my friend had cleared the blackberry vines.  As I did that, I kept glancing at the flowers.  I wanted to see them up close.

I gingerly made my way towards them, my arms and legs getting pricked by the vines as I walked.  Soon I came to a steep drop off.  There were years of vines piled up there and I couldn’t see the land below them.  There was no doubt in my mind that if I stepped into that mass, I would fall and be immersed in a very painful situation.

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How else could I get there?  I looked north and noticed an area where there were no blackberries.  Maybe I could get to the flowers that way!  It was at that time, the saying, “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” first came to mind.

I made it down the steep hill and as you can tell from the pictures above, I could even see the flowers, but I still couldn’t get to them.  Once again, the blackberry vines were too thick.

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I looked south and thought I saw an area that had fewer vines, so I made my way back to the center of the lot and surveyed the situation.  There was no way for me to get to that clearer patch other than to step into the mire that had looked so unsafe to me.  I knew I was too tired to be doing that so decided it was time to stop for the day.

The next morning, my mind was still on the daffodils.  I walked down the hill to check the terrain again.  After a night of rest,  the center area didn’t seem so daunting.  I could even see the ground under the vines.  I decided to go back to the house, exchange my sneakers for heavy boots and pick up a tool to cut (or beat down!) the blackberry vines.

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That plan worked great.  I soon made my way to the small clearing on the south part of the lot.  I noticed a big mushroom and an area of bamboo along the way.

I continued on, cutting the vines as needed.  Before I knew it, I could see the flowers before me.

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With renewed vigor I worked towards my goal.  Before long I was very close!

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And then I was there!

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The daffodils were so beautiful

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But…. what’s that?  Something is moving in the inside of the middle daffodil!  Look closely below, can you see what I saw?

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I was fascinated.  Watch the progression as the scene unfolded!

I thought it was a winged insect at first but when it stretched out completely, it appeared to be a spider.  The top two legs were held close together most of the time, which had given the appearance of wings.  Do any of you who are reading this know what kind of spider it is?

What a grand adventure I had had.  I loved seeing the flowers up close, and then to have the unknown creature come out of one of them was such a bonus.  I wrote a poem about my experience with the spider in Nature’s Miracle.  (I also wrote about another “adventure” on this property last June in A Journey into the Jungle.)

Note:  I looked up information about the phrase “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.”  According to Wikipedia, it was the name of a folk song that became part of the American Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Watching that video led me to this one.  The song is “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.”  The slide show is so good…. and a trip down memory lane for me.

Who would have guessed that this post would have ended in this way?  I sure wouldn’t have.  To me, that is what living in the moment is all about!

The Day I Became a Train Hopper

Photo Credit:  Wikimedia
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

I didn’t start that January 2014 day planning on becoming a train hopper.  Far from it.  My intention was to accompany my daughter, Chaitanya, to her dentist appointment.  Since her appointment was at Amma’s multi-speciality hospital in Kochi (India), several hours away from her ashram in Amritapuri where Chaitanya lives, it was bound to be an adventure, but train hopping was not supposed to be part of it.

Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS)
Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS)

Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS) began in 1998 as a 100 bed hospital and has grown into a 1400 bed tertiary care center with a campus that includes a School of Medicine, School of Nursing, School of Dentistry, School of Pharmacy, and a Center for Nano-sciences and Molecular Medicine.

I have wanted to see AIMS for a long time, but once I arrive at the ashram on my yearly India visit, I don’t want to leave.  I’ve always said that when I had a reason for going to AIMS, I would go.

When I found out that Chaitanya needed to go to AIMS for a root canal and to see an ophthalmologist, I decided my time to visit AIMS had come.  I was excited that she was planning to travel by train rather taking a bus.  I have always enjoyed my train experiences in India. I knew Chaitanya would normally use the open 3rd class seating, so I asked if I could treat her to an air conditioned (AC) or sleeper car.  She was more than happy to receive that gift!

Photo of auto rickshaws from Wikimedia
Photo of auto rickshaws from Wikimedia

Chaitanya had checked the train schedule ahead of time. We were aiming for the 6:30 a.m. train, the first one to Kochi that day. We left the ashram in an auto ricksaw at 5:30 a.m. and arrived at the railroad station around 6:10.

In 1990, when I took my first train trip in India, I described the railroad station in this way:

“For westerners who have never witnessed an Indian train station, it should be pointed out that it was nearly indescribable in its chaos, noise and odor. Every open area was filled to the rafters with humans and animals. It was literally a sea of humanity, full of travelers carrying baggage and poultry on their heads and beggars asking for money and food. Only the passing of bodies moved the moist, fetid air.”

Railroad station IndiaThat station was in Chennai, which is a big city.  It was also during festival time.  This station was entirely different.  It was in a town instead of a city and we were there in early morning.  The station was quiet and peaceful, almost deserted!

When Chaitanya went to the counter to buy the tickets, she was told that there was no 6:30 train, we would have to wait for the one at 7:00 a.m.   It was unlikely she would make her dental appointment on time but there was nothing we could do about it.

Chaitanya didn’t seem particularly concerned.  She asked for tickets in the AC car but was told to buy a regular ticket and once we were on the train and in the AC car we could pay the difference in price to the conductor.

When the train arrived, we started looking for the AC or sleeper car.  We walked the entire length of the train and couldn’t find either one of them. We were starting to suspect that there wasn’t one.  We turned around and walked back to see if we had missed it.

All of a sudden, the whistle blew, so we just jumped onto a third class car.  In that class, there are no seat assignments. The train was packed, unbelievably packed. As we started walking towards the front of the train, the number of people thinned out considerably. When we found open seats I sat down and Chaitanya continued looking for the AC car. She finally discovered a car that had chairs instead of benches. It didn’t have AC but it was more comfortable than the other area so we moved there.

The train trip was 2 ½ hours in length and then it took us another 20 minutes by rickshaw to arrive at AIMS.  As expected, we had missed Chaitanya’s scheduled appointment. She was told the dentist was working on someone else so she would have to wait at least until noon.

We decided to visit a friend who was a patient in the main hospital. We were really glad to be able to spend time with her as she was headed for surgery later that day.

Once she was called, Chaitanya was in the dentist’s chair for two hours. She had already been to the dental school for an appointment to determine what was wrong with the tooth, and would have to return for at least one and possibly two more appointments before the process would be finished. I had recently had  a root canal myself, and the whole procedure  was competed in one appointment. Not so here. For one root canal, Chaitanya needed four or five appointments, each requiring her to travel 3 hours by train and rickshaw ….each way.

While Chaitanya was with the dentist, I decided to look around. My fantasy had been that AIMS was a campus with many spread out buildings and rolling green lawns. Not so. There were many tall buildings and every available space was being used, either by an existing building, or one under construction. And there were so many people.

The campus was so big that I was afraid to do much exploring.  It was like a big maze and I didn’t want to get lost.  I decided to limit my outing to the main hospital, the School of Dentistry, and a building that had a cafeteria in it!

India Banana SplitWhen Chaitanya finished her dental work, we found the ophthalmology department and she did what she needed to do there. By the time that was finished, she was famished so I bought her some lunch.  Afterwards, she took me to a different building where we could get ice cream. I decided to have a banana split! Here is what a banana split looks like in India! I’ve never had one here before, and it was very different than what I expected. Even the texture of the banana was different.  (This picture is of a partially eaten one!)

We then headed back to the train station to get the AC or sleeper car that I believed we deserved after this very long day! Well that was our plan, but wasn’t what happened! Chaitanya knew a short cut to the railroad station that allowed us to walk rather than take a rickshaw. What we didn’t realize was that we would end up in a part of the train yard that was nowhere near the counter where they sold the train tickets…. and a train was coming.

When Chaitanya asked where that train was going, she discovered it was the train we needed to take. If we went to the ticket office, we would certainly miss it, so we decided we would board the train and pay the conductor.  We didn’t know if that was allowed, but since we had been told in the morning to just pay the conductor the balance of the fee, we decided it was a reasonable thing to do.

We once again walked the length of the train looking for the AC or sleeper cars….. and once again we couldn’t find them. The whistle blew, so we jumped on the train. Once we were in the car, we realized there was a problem. Normally when you board a train, you can walk from one car to the another from the beginning of the train to the end.  This particular car was very different in that there were no doors that connected to the other cars.  That meant there was no way for us to walk through the train looking for the AC car or to pay the conductor.

A man was already in the car.  He told us we would need to get off at the next station and find a different car. When he discovered we didn’t even have tickets, he repeated that statement even stronger. I thought he was a railroad employee, although it seemed a little strange that he wasn’t wearing a uniform.

Moments later, he informed us that it fine for us to be in that car.  He then said that he was calling some of his friends and they would be joining us.  Moments later two men and a woman boarded.  By now I was convinced that none of them belonged in the car anymore than we did.

We soon learned that we were in the “disability car.” At one point, a man with a disability did enter, but no one else in the car should have been there.

Eventually, the train left the station. When we arrived at the next station the other passengers told us not to leave.  (They spoke little to no English, but Chaitanya speaks enough Malayalam to get a general idea of what they were saying.)  When we departed that station, the train started going backwards, i.e. in the opposite direction from where we wanted to go. What was happening? We decided we would get off at the next station regardless of what anyone said.

The train started going really fast. Soon we realized that we couldn’t get off at the next station because the car we were in had only one door and it opened out onto the tracks. All of the subsequent stations were like that as well.

I was wondering where this train was going.  Would we end up in North India? And why was no one else concerned about this situation?  After a half hour or so, I noticed the placement of the sun. Somehow we had changed tracks and started going the right way without a sense that the train had turned around. I still have no idea how that happened but was very relieved to discover we had been going in the right direction.

The other four people laid down in the sleeper bunks and slept most of the trip. It seemed clear that they made a practice of staying in the disability car. I was having fun, although I was concerned about how I was going to explain this situation to the conductor…… but I felt somewhat comforted knowing the others would have explaining to do as well.

As we neared our station, we realized that the car door still opened onto the tracks instead of the station platform.  What were we going to do?  Chaitanya wanted to get off on the tracks.  I didn’t like that idea, but began to think there was no other option.  She at least agreed that if we saw another train coming, we would stay on the train.

We told the man we had met at the beginning that our station was the next one.  When we arrived there, he walked to the part of our car that had a toilet.  Much to my surprise, there was an alcove I hadn’t seen before.  It contained another door, one that opened the other direction. He unlocked the door and we walked directly onto the loading and unloading platform. I just shook my head, realizing we could have disembarked at any station!

We took a rickshaw back to the ashram, returning 16 hours from the time we started our journey.  What a day it had been and what an adventure.  And because of it, I could now add “(unintentional) train hopper” to my list of life experiences!

A Journey into the Jungle

This post is the story of a journey that the adventurous part of me (AP) and the sometimes scared kid part of me (KP) took this morning! (If you click on the pictures in each section you will be able to see them as a slide show.)

AP: “Today we are going to participate in Bastet’s Pixelventures for the first time!” The assignment is to take a picture of something looking up!”

KP:  “That sounds like fun. What will we take a picture of?”

AP:  “How about a photo of the big, gray concrete house on the next block? It is different and it goes straight up.”

KP: “That house is weird. I suppose it would be okay but it is pretty boring.”

AP: “Oh….. I know! There is that gorgeous big tree in the lot behind our house. We can walk there and take a picture!”

KP: “That tree is down a BIG hill and that lot is a JUNGLE. I don’t know about this.” Continue reading “A Journey into the Jungle”

1966: The Beginning of a Grand Adventure

As some of you know from A Surprise View of My Past, I was recently gifted with digital copies of slides my father had taken during my childhood. Since I left home when I was 17 years old, I had never seen most of those photos before.  The only childhood pictures I have are all  in black and white, whereas the slides my brother sent me were all in color. Since I have very few memories of my childhood, I viewed them with great interest.

When I read today’s The Daily Post Writing Challenge: Snapshot Stories the three pictures of me leaving home for college came to mind.

I had been unhappy at home for as long as I could remember. For three years, I marked off the days on a calendar; each day a day closer to the time I would leave to go to college.

Continue reading “1966: The Beginning of a Grand Adventure”