Oasis in the Delta

Good Morning Darlin’


It is a usual morning. Leo sings in the bathtub arranging songs to his liking. His beautiful bass tenor rings out in the house. “Oh my darling, I love your pretty face and the way you look tonight, my baby love, ooo baby love.” He strings tunes together into one song like a Broadway overture with a flair for the unexpected. His repertoire moves from Eric Clapton to Diana Ross to Los Lobos, ” Para bailar la bamba Para bailar la bamba se necesita una poca de gracia Una poca de gracia para mí para tí yay Arriba  Arriba.”  I love how he can wake up so alive and full of energy. He gives me lots of hugs in between tunes and treasures that I am safe in bed as he takes care of taking care of us. Days go by and they all add up to how much he loves us even if he doesn’t like his job, he goes there for us.

He goes to the medicine cabinet to get his deodorant. “Good morning señor speed stick,” He says in his best Speedy Gonzales voice. It’s a show every morning beginning at 5:30 am. The kids and I have front row seats and if we can manage to not become fully conscious throughout it and just consider it as a radio in our dreams, we manage to sleep on a little more before we have to get up. It’s an art. Something I learned to do when I had children. I keep half an ear and brain open to the house while the other side of my brain sleeps. Practicing this to perfection took a few years of ears on, ears off until I could seamlessly sleep on between songs.

He doesn’t like breakfast, and as long as his clothes are where they are supposed to be. I don’t have to get up. Which is a good thing for I am a night owl and 4:30 comes pretty close to my usual 11:00 or midnight muse writings. Of all the times of the day after 10:00 is even quieter than grass growing. There is a kind of silence that only farming country offers. The toils of the field are put aside and surrendered to sleep. Even exhaustion dissipates and lifts into the air only to await the nightly trains to sweep it all down the track until morning. There is darkness everywhere with only a few scattered street lamps. The sky expands with so many stars whose splendiferous light sparkles with clarity that I can feel them. “Esplendoroso!” exclaims our Mexican field hands, their beauty not passing them by.

Daylight is different in farming country. People are up well before the earth has time to see the first glimmers of the constant sun. I wonder if the sun what it would say when it moves towards Dixie land. “Yep, I won’t have to worry about those folks getting up. They are already jumping into trucks and tractors to see if the cotton has bloomed if there is enough water running into rice fields safely within the exacting laser designed levees like chocolate licorice ribbons.

When we first farmed and Rhiannon was just a baby my favorite time was the morning. Leo would pick her up and gently lay her beside me in bed. It was like getting a Christmas present every sun up. We would sleep cozily next to each other as crop dusters and grain trucks buzzed outside. The city has nothing on this dawn activity. There are combines on the road and farmers scurrying to get to their fields from the oasis of our little town on a commute that feeds and clothes the world. As a suburban lake child growing up in the North I took for granted the food and the cotton summer dresses I wore, never knowing just what went into the making of them.

There is so much that goes into growing a crop. Those scenic pictures of endless fields of green one sees on a calendar is the romantic and idyllic vision of long hot days of hard work. The soil is tilled down to the hardpan, the rows are drawn in straight mounds, which is a feat of expertise for anyone who has ever run them. I tried to once and it looked like a tipsy trail of wiggles. Then, the seed has to put in just so, carefully calibrated so as to have moisture and just enough room between to grow. There is fertilizer, weed controls to keep it from being choked out by random mare’s tails, pesky morning glories and such. Sometimes it’s not enough and some afternoons the kids would go with Leo, while he walked through the rows pulling them out one by one by hand. Dustin and Rhiannon would play in the runoff irrigation water pools reminiscent of that scène from Woodstock, wallowing, and splashing in the muddy runoff across the turn rows. The laying of heavy aluminum pipes for irrigation along the turn row takes time and patience to hook the rusty 10-foot pipes to together. Then there is checking wells to see if they are still running at all hours of the day and night, making new sets to redirect the translucent life’s blood of any crop on a new line of irrigation. This was back before we had pivots and poly-pipe was still being invented, laying metal pipe was the only way to get water into the field. Back-breaking, dusty enough to choke the air right of your lungs.

Down yonder is the bayou, the big Bayou Bartholomew, whose good fortune for us was to run right through our land up at the Kitrel place. Days, when the rain was scarce as a month of Sundays and the sun moaned like melting wax in a cloudless sky, the only refuge for our crops depended on the relift from the bayou up it pumped noisily  through the metal cylinders, bursting forth it’s murky waters in a flush of milk chocolate through the pipes that seeped through its holes into the rows. The earth sopped it up as it took hours sometimes before you could see the water standing in the rows,  watered out and sufficiently nourished.

It was not at all the Calendar portrayal of farm life as I imagined. My sweaty Romeo covered in dirt, machine grease and water, came home every day from the fields with an appetite and a longing for a cool bed or couch. I was worried for him, I was proud of him, I missed the man I fell in love with who now worked 16 hours a day and had little time to play.


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