Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Excerpts from The Grapes of Wrath (7)

(From Chapter 28)

Ma heard a stealthy step among the leaves far to her left, and she grew tense.  She released her knees and straightened her head, the better to hear.  The movement stopped, and after a long moment began again.  A vine rasped harshly on the dry leaves.  Ma saw a dark figure creep into the open and draw near to the culvert.  The black round hole was obscured for a moment, and then the figure moved back.  She called softly, "Tom!"  The figure stood still, so still, so low to the ground that it might have been a stump.  She called again, "Tom, oh, Tom!"  Then the figure moved.

"That you, Ma?"

"Right over here."  She stood up and went to meet him.

"You shouldn' of came," he said.

"I got to see you, Tom.  I got to talk to you."

"It's near the trail," he said.  "Somebody might come by."

"Ain't you got a place, Tom?"

"Yeah--but if--well, s'pose somebody seen you with me--whole fambly'd be in a jam."

"I got to, Tom."

"Then come along.  Come quiet."  He crossed the little stream, wading carelessly through the water, and Ma followed him.  He moved through the brush, out into a field on the other side of the thicket, and along the plowed ground.  The blackening stems of the cotton were harsh against the ground, and a few fluffs of cotton clung to the stems.  A quarter of a mile they went along the edge of the field, and then he turned into the brush again.  He approached a great mound of wild blackberry bushes, leaned over and pulled a mat of vines aside.  "You got to crawl in," he said.

Ma went down on her hands and knees.  She felt sand under her, and then the black inside of the mound no longer touched her, and she felt Tom's blanket on the ground.  He arranged the vines in place again.  It was lightless in the cave.

"Where are you, Ma?"

"Here.  Right here.  Talk soft, Tom."

"Don't worry.  I been livin' like a rabbit some time."

She heard him unwrap his tin plate.

"Pork chops," she said.  "And fry potatoes."

"God Awmighty, an' still warm."

Ma could not see him at all in the blackness, but she could hear him chewing, tearing at the meat and swallowing.

"It's a pretty good hide-out," he said.

Ma said uneasily, "Tom--Ruthie tol' about you."  She heard him gulp.

"Ruthie?  What for?"

"Well, it wasn' her fault.  Got in a fight, an' says her brother'll lick that other girl's brother.  You know how they do.  An' she tol' that her brother killed a man an' was hidin'."

Tom was chuckling.  "With me I was always gonna get Uncle John after 'em, but he never would do it.  That's jus' kid talk, Ma.  That's awright."

"No, it ain't," Ma said.  "Them kids'll tell it around an' then the folks'll hear, an' they'll tell around, an' pretty soon, well, they liable to get men out to look, jus' in case.  Tom, you got to go away."

"That's what I said right along.  I was always scared somebody'd see you put stuff in that culvert, an' then they'd watch."

"I know.  But I wanted you near.  I was scared for you.  I ain't seen you.  Can't see you now.  How's your face?"

"Gettin' well quick."

"Come clost, Tom.  Let me feel it.  Come clost."  He crawled near.  Her reaching hand found his head in the blackness and her fingers moved down to his nose, and then over his left cheek.  "You got a bad scar, Tom.  An' your nose is all crooked."

"Maybe tha's a good thing.  Nobody wouldn't know me, maybe.  If my prints wasn't on record, I'd be glad."  He went back to his eating.

"Hush," she said.  "Listen!"

"It's the wind, Ma.  Jus' the wind."  The gust poured down the stream, and the trees rustled under its passing.

She crawled close to his voice.  "I wanta touch ya again, Tom.  It's like I'm blin', it's so dark.  I wanta remember, even if it's on'y my fingers that remember.  You got to go away, Tom."

"Yeah!  I knowed it from the start."

"We made purty good," she said.  "I been squirrelin' money away.  Hol' out your han', Tom.  I got seven dollars here."

"I ain't gonna take ya money," he said.  "I'll get 'long all right."

"Hol' out ya han', Tom.  I ain't gonna sleep none if you got no money.  Maybe you got to take a bus, or somepin.  I want you should go a long ways off, three-four hundred miles."

"I ain't gonna take it."

"Tom," she said sternly.  "You take this money.  You hear me?  You got no right to cause me pain."

"You ain't playin' fair," he said.

"I thought maybe you could go to a big city.  Los Angeles, maybe.  They wouldn' never look for you there."

"Hm-m," he said.  "Lookie, Ma.  I been all day an' all night hidin' alone.  Guess who I been thinkin' about?  Casy!  He talked a lot.  Used ta bother me.  But now I been thinkin' what he said, an' I can remember--all of it.  Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul, an' he foun' he didn' have no soul that was his'n.  Says he foun' he jus' got a little piece of a great big soul.  Says a wilderness ain't no good, 'cause his little piece of a soul wasn't no good 'less it was with the rest, an' was whole.  Funny how I remember.  Didn' think I was even listenin'.  But I know now a fella ain't no good alone."

"He was a good man," Ma said.

Tom went on, "He spouted out some Scripture once, an' it didn' soun' like no hell-fire Scripture.  He tol' it twicet, an' I remember it.  Says it's from the Preacher."

"How's it go, Tom?"

"Goes, 'Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.  For if they fall, the one will lif' up his fellow, but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up.'  That's part of her."

"Go on," Ma said.  "Go on, Tom."

"Jus' a little bit more.  'Again, if two lie together, then they have heat:  but how can one be warm alone?  And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him, and a three-fold cord is not quickly broken.' "

"An' that's Scripture?"

"Casy said it was.  Called it the Preacher."


"On'y the wind, Ma.  I know the wind.  An' I got to thinkin', Ma--most of the preachin' is about the poor we shall have always with us, an' if you got nothin', why, jus' fol' your hands an' to hell with it, you gonna git ice cream on gol' plates when you're dead.  An' then this here Preacher says two get a better reward for their work."

"Tom," she said.  "What you aimin' to do?"

He was quiet for a long time.  "I been thinkin' how it was in that gov'ment camp, how our folks took care a theirselves, an' if they was a fight they fixed it theirself; an' they wasn't no cops wagglin' their guns, but they was better order than them cops ever give.  I been a-wonderin' why we can't do that all over.  Throw out the cops that ain't our people.  All work together for our own thing--all farm our own lan'."

"Tom," Ma repeated, "what you gonna do?"

"What Casy done," he said.

"But they killed him."

"Yeah," said Tom.  "He didn' duck quick enough.  He wasn' doing nothin' against the law, Ma.  I been thinkin' a hell of a lot, thinkin' about our people livin' like pigs, an' the good rich lan' layin' fallow, or maybe one fella with a million acres, while a hunderd thousan' good farmers is starvin'.  An' I been wonderin' if all our folks got together an' yelled, like them fellas yelled, only a few of 'em at the Hooper ranch---"

Ma said, "Tom, they'll drive you, an' cut you down like they done to young Floyd."

"They gonna drive me anyways.  They drivin' all our people."

"You don't aim to kill nobody, Tom?"

"No.  I been thinkin', long as I'm a outlaw anyways, maybe I could--Hell, I ain't thought it out clear, Ma.  Don' worry me now.  Don' worry me."

They sat silent in the coal-black cave of vines.  Ma said, "How'm I gonna know 'bout you?  They might kill ya an' I wouldn' know.  They might hurt ya.  How'm I gonna know?"

Tom laughed uneasily, "Well, maybe like Casy says, a fella ain't got a soul of his own, but on'y a piece of a big one--an' then---"

"Then what, Tom?"

"Then it don' matter.  Then I'll be all aroun' in the dark.  I'll be ever'where--wherever you look.  Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there.  Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there.  If Casy knowed, why, I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an'--I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready.  An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build--why, I'll be there.  See?  God, I'm talkin' like Casy.  Comes of thinkin' about him so much.  Seems like I can see him sometimes."

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Excerpts from The Grapes of Wrath (6)

(From Chapter 26)

The company's store was a large shed of corrugated iron.  It had no display window.  Ma opened the screen door and went in.  A tiny man stood behind the counter.  He was completely bald, and his head was blue-white.  Large, brown eyebrows covered his eyes in such a high arch that his face seemed surprised and a little frightened.  His nose was long and thin, and curved like a bird's beak, and his nostrils were blocked with light brown hair.  Over the sleeves of his blue shirt he wore black sateen sleeve protectors.  He was leaning on his elbows on the counter when Ma entered.

"Afternoon," she said.

He inspected her with interest.  The arch over his eyes became higher.  "Howdy."

"I got a slip here for a dollar."

"You can get a dollar's worth," he said, and he giggled shrilly.  "Yes, sir.  A dollar's worth.  One dollar's worth."  He waved his hand at the stock.  "Any of it."  He pulled his sleeve protectors up neatly.

"Thought I'd get a piece of meat."

"Got all kinds," he said.  "Hamburg, like to have some hamburg?  Twenty cents a pound, hamburg."

"Ain't that awful high?  Seems to me hamburg was fifteen las' time I got some."

"Well," he giggled softly, "yes, it's high, an' same time it ain't high.  Time you go on in town for a couple poun's of hamburg, it'll cos' you 'bout a gallon gas.  So you see it ain't really high here, 'cause you got no gallon a gas."

Ma said sternly, "It didn' cos' you no gallon a gas to get it out here."

He laughed delightedly.  "You're lookin' at it backwards," he said.  "We ain't a-buyin' it, we're a-sellin' it.  If we was buyin' it, why, that'd be different."

Ma put two fingers to her mouth and frowned with thought.  "It looks all full a fat an' gristle."

"I ain't guaranteein' she won't cook down," the storekeeper said.  "I ain't guaranteein' I'd eat her myself; but they's lots of stuff I wouldn' do."

Ma looked up at him fiercely for a moment.  She controlled her voice.  "Ain't you got some cheaper kind a meat?"

"Soup bones," he said.  "Ten cents a pound."

"But them's jus' bones."

"Them's jes' bones," he said.  "Make nice soup.  Jes' bones."

"Got any boilin' beef?"

"Oh, yeah!  Sure.  That's two bits a poun'."

"Maybe I can't get no meat," Ma said.  "But they want meat.  They said they wanted meat."

"Ever'body wants meat--needs meat.  That hamburg is purty nice stuff.  Use the grease that comes out a her for gravy.  Purty nice.  No waste.  Don't throw no bone away."

"How--how much is side-meat?"

"Well, now you're gettin' into fancy stuff.  Christmas stuff.  Thanksgivin' stuff.  Thirty-five cents a poun'.  I could sell you turkey cheaper, if I had some turkey."

Ma sighed.  "Give me two pounds hamburg."

"Yes, ma'am."  He scooped the pale meat on a piece of waxed paper.  "An' what else?"

"Well, some bread."

"Right here.  Fine big loaf, fifteen cents."

"That's twelve-cent loaf."

"Sure, it is.  Go right in town an' get her for twelve cents.  Gallon a gas.  What else can I sell you, potatoes?"

"Yes, potatoes."

"Five pounds for a quarter."

Ma moved menacingly toward him.  "I heard enough from you.  I know what they cost in town."

The little man clamped his mouth tight.  "Then go git 'em in town."

Ma looked at her knuckles.  "What is this?" she asked softly.  "You own this here store?"

"No.  I jus' work here."

"Any reason you got to make fun?  That help you any?"  She regarded her shiny wrinkled hands.  The little man was silent.  "Who owns this here store?"

"Hooper Ranches, Incorporated, ma'am."

"An' they set the prices?"

"Yes, ma'am."

She looked up, smiling a little.  "Ever'body comes in talks like me, is mad?"

He hesitated for a moment.  "Yes, ma'am."

"An' that's why you make fun?"

"What cha mean?"

"Doin' a dirty thing like this.  Shames ya, don't it?  Got to act flip, huh?"  Her voice was gentle.  The clerk watched her, fascinated.  He didn't answer.  "That's how it is," Ma said finally.  "Forty cents for meat, fifteen for bread, quarter for potatoes.  That's eighty cents.  Coffee?"

"Twenty cents the cheapest, ma'am."

"An' that's the dollar.  Seven of us workin, an' that's supper."  She studied her hand.  "Wrap 'em up," she said quickly.

"Yes, ma'am." he said.  "Thanks."  He put the potatoes in a bag and folded the top carefully down.  His eyes slipped to Ma, and then hid in his work again.  She watched him, and she smiled a little.

"How'd you get a job like this?" she asked.

"A fella got to eat," he began; and then, belligerently, "A fella got a right to eat."

"What fella?" Ma asked.

He placed the four packages on the counter.  "Meat," he said.  "Potatoes, bread, coffee.  One dollar, even."  She handed him her slip of paper and watched while he entered the name and the amount in a ledger.  "There," he said.  "Now we're all even."

Ma picked up her bags.  "Say," she said.  "We got no sugar for the coffee.  My boy Tom, he wants sugar.  Look!" she said.  "They're a-workin' out there.  You let me have some sugar an' I'll bring the slip in later."

The little man looked away--took his eyes as far from Ma as he could.  "I can't do it," he said softly.  "That's the rule.  I can't.  I'd get in trouble.  I'd get canned."

"But they're a-workin' out in the field now.  They got more'n a dime comin'.  Gimme ten cents' of sugar.  Tom, he wanted sugar in his coffee.  Spoke about it."

"I can't do it, ma'am.  That's the rule.  No slip, no groceries.  The manager, he talks about that all the time.  No, I can't do it.  No, I can't.  They'd catch me.  They always catch fellas.  Always.  I can't."

"For a dime?"

"For anything, ma'am."  He looked pleadingly at her.  And then his face lost its fear.  He took ten cents from his pocket and rang it up in the cash register.  "There," he said with relief.  He pulled a little bag from under the counter, whipped it open and scooped some sugar into it, weighed the bag, and added a little more sugar.  "There you are," he said.  "Now it's all right.  You bring in your slip an' I'll get my dime back."

Ma studied him.  Her hand went blindly out and put the little bag of sugar on the pile in her arm.  "Thanks to you," she said quietly.  She started for the door, and when she reached it, she turned about.  "I'm learnin' one thing good," she said.  "Learnin' it all a time, ever' day.  If you're in trouble or hurt or need--go to poor people.  They're the only ones that'll help--the only ones."  The screen door slammed behind her.

The little man leaned his elbows on the counter and looked after her with his surprised eyes.  A plump tortoise-shell cat leaped up on the counter and stalked lazily near to him.  It rubbed sideways against his arms, and he reached out with his hand and pulled it against his cheek.  The cat purred loudly, and the tip of its tail jerked back and forth.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Excerpts from The Grapes of Wrath (5)

(From Chapter 20)
The man said, "You men want to work?"  Still they looked quietly, suspiciously.  And men from all over the camp moved near.

One of the squatting men spoke at last.  "Sure we wanta work.  Where's at's work?"

"Tulare County.  Fruit's opening up.  Need a lot of pickers."

Floyd spoke up.  "You doin' the hiring?"

"Well, I'm contracting the land."

The men were in a compact group now.  An overalled man took off his black hat and combed back his long black hair with his fingers.  "What you payin'?" he asked.

"Well, can't tell exactly, yet.  'Bout thirty cents, I guess."

"Why can't you tell?  You took the contract, didn' you?"

"That's true," the khaki man said.  "But it's keyed to the price.  Might be a little more, might be a little less."

Floyd stepped out ahead.  He said quietly, "I'll go, mister.  You're a contractor, an' you got a license.  You jus' show your license, an' then you give us an order to go to work, an' where, an' when, an' how much we'll get, an' you sign that, an' we'll all go."

The contractor turned, scowling.  "You telling me how to run my own business?"

Floyd said, " 'F we're workin' for you, it's our business too."

"Well, you ain't telling me what to do.  I told you I need men."

Floyd said angrily, "You didn' say how many men, an' you didn' say what you'd pay."

"Goddamn it, I don't know yet."

"If you don' know, you got no right to hire men."

"I got a right to run my business my own way.  If you men want to sit here on your ass, O.K.  I'm out getting men for Tulare County.  Going to need a lot of men."

Floyd turned to the crowd of men.  They were standing up now, looking quietly from one speaker to the other.  Floyd said, "Twice now I've fell for that.  Maybe he needs a thousan' men.  He'll get five thousan' there, an' he'll pay fifteen cents an hour.  An' you poor bastards'll have to take it 'cause you'll be hungry.  'F he wants to hire men, let him hire 'em an' write it out an' say what he's gonna pay.  Ast ta see his license.  He ain't allowed to contract men without a license."

The contractor turned to the Chevrolet and called, "Joe!"  His companion looked out and then swung the car door open and stepped out.  He wore riding breeches and laced boots.  A heavy pistol holster hung on a cartridge belt around his waist.  On his brown shirt a deputy sheriff's star was pinned.  He walked heavily over.  His face was set to a thin smile.  "What you want?"  The holster slid back and forth on his hip.

"Ever see this guy before, Joe?"

The deputy asked "Which one?"

"This fella."  The contractor point ed to Floyd.

"What'd he do?"  The deputy smiled at Floyd.

"He's talkin' red, agitating trouble."

"Hm-m-m."  The deputy moved slowly around to see Floyd's profile, and the color slowly flowed up Floyd's face.

"You see?" Floyd cried.  "If this guy's on the level, would he bring a cop along?"

"Ever see 'im before?" the contractor insisted.

"Hmm, seems like I have.  Las' week when that used-car lot was busted into.  Seems like I seen this fella hangin' aroun'.  Yep!  I'd swear it's the same fella."  Suddenly the smile left his face.  "Get in the car," he said, and he unhooked the strap that covered the butt of his automatic.

Tom said, "You got nothin' on him."

The deputy swung around.  " 'F you'd like to go in too, you jus' open your trap once more.  They was two fellas hangin' around that lot."

"I wasn't even in the State las' week," Tom said.

"Well, maybe you're wanted someplace else.  You keep your trap shut."

The contractor turned back to the men.  "You fellas don't want ta listen to these goddamn reds.  Troublemakers--they'll get you in trouble.  Now I can use all of you in Tulare County."

The men didn't answer.

The deputy turned back to them.  "Might be a good idea to go," he said.  The thin smile was back on his face.  "Board of Health says we got to clean out this camp.  An' if it gets around that you got reds out here--why, somebody might git hurt.  Be a good idea if all you fellas moved on to Tulare.  They isn't a thing to do aroun' here.  That's jus' a friendly way a telling you.  Be a bunch of guys down here, maybe with pick handles, if you ain't gone."

The contractor said, "I told you I need men.  If you don't want to work--well, that's your business."

The deputy smiled.  "If they don't want to work, they ain't a place for 'em in this county.  We'll float 'em quick."

Floyd stood stiffly beside the deputy, and Floyd's thumbs were hooked over his belt.  Tom stole a look at him, and then stared at the ground.

"That's all," the contractor said.  "There's men needed in Tulare County; plenty of work."

Tom looked slowly up at Floyd's hands, and he saw the strings at the wrists standing out under the skin.  Tom's own hands came up, and his thumbs hooked over his belt.

"Yeah, that's all.  I don't want one of you here by tomorra morning."
The contractor stepped into the Chevrolet.

"Now, you," the deputy said to Floyd, "you get in that car."  He reached a large hand up and took hold of Floyd's left arm.  Floyd spun and swung with one movement.  His fist splashed into the large face, and in the same motion he was away, dodging down the line of tents.  The deputy staggered and Tom put out his foot for him to trip over.  The deputy fell heavily and rolled, reaching for his gun.  Floyd dodged in and out of sight down the line.  The deputy fired from the ground.  A woman in front of a tent screamed and then looked at a hand which had no knuckles.  The fingers hung on strings against her palm, and the torn flesh was white and bloodless.  Far down the line Floyd came in sight, sprinting for the willows.  The deputy, sitting on the ground, raised his gun again and then, suddenly, from the group of men, the Reverend Casy stepped.  He kicked the deputy in the neck and then stood back as the heavy man crumpled into unconsciousness.

The motor of the Chevrolet roared and it streaked away, churning the dust.  It mounted to the highway and shot away.  In front of her tent, the woman still looked at her shattered hand.  Little droplets of blood began to ooze from the wound.  And a chuckling hysteria began in her throat, a whining laugh that grew louder and higher with each breath.

The deputy lay on his side, his mouth open against the dust.

Tom picked up his automatic, pulled out the magazine and threw it into the brush, and he ejected the live shell from the chamber.  "Fella like that ain't got no right to a gun," he said; and he dropped the automatic to the ground.

A crowd had collected around the woman with the broken hand, and her hysteria increased, a screaming quality came into her laughter.

Casy moved close to Tom.  "You got to git out," he said.  "You go down in the willas an' wait.  He didn' see me kick 'im, but he seen you stick out your foot."

"I don' want ta go," Tom said.

Casy put his head close.  He whispered, "They'll fingerprint you.  You broke parole.  They'll send you back."

Tom drew in his breath quietly.  "Jesus!  I forgot."

"Go quick," Casy said.  " 'Fore he comes to."

"Like to have his gun," Tom said.

"No.  Leave it.  If it's awright to come back, I'll give ya four high whistles."

Tom strolled away casually, but as soon as he was away from the group he hurried his steps, and he disappeared among the willows that lined the river.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Excerpts from The Grapes of Wrath (4)

(From Chapter 18)

All night they bored through the hot darkness, and jackrabbits scuttled into the lights and dashed away in long jolting leaps.  And the dawn came up behind them when the lights of Mojave were ahead.  And the dawn showed high mountains to the west.  They filled the water and oil at Mojave and crawled into the mountains, and the dawn was about them.

Tom said, "Jesus, the desert's past!  Pa, Al, for Christ sakes!  The desert's past!"

"I'm too goddamn tired to care," said Al.

"Want me to drive?"

"No, wait awhile."

They drove through Tehachapi in the morning glow, and the sun came up behind them, and then--suddenly they saw the great valley below them.  Al jammed on the brake and stopped in the middle of the road, and, "Jesus Christ!  Look!" he said.  The vineyards, the orchards, the great flat valley, green and beautiful, the trees set in rows, and the farm houses.

And Pa said, "God Almighty!"  The distant cities, the little towns in the orchard land, and the morning sun, golden on the valley.  A car honked behind them.  Al pulled to the side of the road and parked.

"I want ta look at her."  The grain fields golden in the morning, and the willow lines, the eucalyptus trees in rows.

Pa sighed, "I never knowed they was anything like her."  The peach trees and the walnut groves, and the dark green patches of oranges.  And red roofs among the trees, and barns--rich barns.  Al got out and stretched his legs.

He called, "Ma--come look.  We're there!"

Ruthie and Winfield scrambled down from the car, and then they stood, silent and awestruck, embarrassed before the great valley.  The distance was thinned with haze, and the land grew softer and softer in the distance.  A windmill flashed in the sun, and its turning blades were like a little heliograph, far away.  Ruthie and Winfield looked at it, and Ruthie whispered, "It's California."

Winfield moved his lips silently over the syllables.  "There's fruit," he said aloud.

Casy and Uncle John, Connie and Rose of Sharon climbed down.  And they stood silently.  Rose of Sharon had started to brush her hair back, when she caught sight of the valley and her hand dropped slowly to her side.

Tom said, "Where's Ma?  I want Ma to see it.  Look, Ma!  Come here, Ma."  Ma was climbing slowly, stiffly, down the back board.  Tom looked at her.  "My God, Ma, you sick?"  Her face was stiff and putty-like, and her eyes seemed to have sunk deep into her head, and the rims were red with weariness.  Her feet touched the ground and she braced herself by holding the truck-side.

Her voice was a croak.  "Ya say we're acrost?"

Tom pointed to the great valley.  "Look!"

She turned her head, and her mouth opened a little.  Her fingers went to her throat and gathered a little pinch of skin and twisted gently.  "Thank God!" she said.  "The fambly's here."  Her knees buckled and she sat down on the running board.

"You sick, Ma?"

"No, jus' tar'd."

"Didn' you get no sleep?"


"Was Granma bad?"

Ma looked down at her hands, lying together like tired lovers in her lap.  "I wisht I could wait an' not tell you.  I wisht it could be all--nice."

Pa said, "Then Granma's bad."

Ma raised her eyes and looked over the valley.  "Granma's dead."

They looked at her, all of them, and Pa asked, "When?"

"Before they stopped us las' night."

"So that's why you didn' want 'em to look."

"I was afraid we wouldn' get acrost," she said.  "I tol' Granma we couldn' he'p her.  The fambly had ta get acrost.  I tol' her, tol' her when she was a-dyin'.  We couldn' stop in the desert.  There was the young ones--an' Rosasharn's baby.  I tol' her."  She put up her hands and covered her face for a moment.  "She can get buried in a nice green place," Ma said softly.  "Trees aroun' an' a nice place.  She got to lay her head down in California."

The family looked at Ma with a little terror at her strength.

Tom said, "Jesus Christ!  You layin' there with her all night long!"

"The fambly hadda get acrost," Ma said miserably.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Excerpts from The Grapes of Wrath (3)

(From Chapter 17)

Tom brought out his bag of tobacco, a limp gray rag by now, with a little damp tobacco dust in the bottom of it.  He made a lean cigarette and tossed the bag away.  "We'll go along pretty soon," he said.

Pa spoke generally to the circle.  "It's dirt hard for folks to tear up an' go.  Folks like us that had our place.  We ain't shif'less.  Till we got tractored off, we was people with a farm."

A young thin man, with eyebrows sunburned yellow, turned his head slowly.  "Croppin'?" he asked.

"Sure we was sharecroppin'.  Use' ta own the place."

The young man faced forward again.  "Same as us," he said.

"Lucky for us it ain't gonna las' long," said Pa.  "We'll get out west an' we'll get work an' we'll get a piece a growin' land with water."

Near the edge of the porch a ragged man stood.  His black coat dripped torn streamers.  The knees were gone from his dungarees.  His face was black with dust, and lined where sweat had washed through.  He swung his head toward Pa.  "You folks must have a nice little pot a money."

"No, we ain't got no money," Pa said.  "But they's plenty of us to work, an' we're all good men.  Get good wages out there an' we'll put 'em together.  We'll make out."

The ragged man stared while Pa spoke, and then he laughed, and his laughter turned to a high whinnying giggle.  The circle of faces turned to him.  The giggling got out of control and turned into coughing.  His eyes were red and watering when he finally controlled the spasms.  "You goin' out there--oh, Christ!"  The giggling started again.  "You goin' out an' get--good wages--oh, Christ!"  He stopped and said slyly, "Pickin' oranges maybe?  Gonna pick peaches?"

Pa's tone was dignified.  "We gonna take what they got.  They got lots a stuff to work in."  The ragged man giggled under his breath.

Tom turned irritably.  "What's so goddamn funny about that?"

The ragged man shut his mouth and looked sullenly at the porch boards.  "You folks all goin' to California, I bet."

"I tol' you that," said Pa.  "You didn' guess nothin'."

The ragged man said slowly, "Me--I'm comin' back.  I been there."

The faces turned quickly toward him.  The men were rigid.  The hiss of the lantern dropped to a sigh and the proprietor lowered the front chair legs to the porch, stood up, and pumped the lantern until the hiss was sharp and high again.  He went back to his chair, but he did not tilt back again.  The ragged man turned toward the faces.  "I'm goin' back to starve.  I ruther starve all over at oncet."

Pa said, "What the hell you talkin' about?  I got a han'bill says they got good wages, an' little while ago I seen a thing in the paper says they need folks to pick fruit."

The ragged man turned to Pa.  "You got any place to go, back home?"

"No," said Pa.  "We're out.  They put a tractor past the house."

"You wouldn' go back then?"

" 'Course not."

"Then I ain't gonna fret you," said the ragged man.

" 'Course you ain't gonna fret me.  I got a han'bill says they need men.  Don't make no sense if they don't need men.  Costs money for them bills.  They wouldn' put 'em out if they didn' need men."

"I don' wanna fret you."

Pa said angrily, "You done some jackassin'.  You ain't gonna shut up now.  My han'bill says they need men.  You laugh an' say they don't.  Now, which one's a liar?"

The ragged man looked down into Pa's angry eyes.  He looked sorry.  "Han'bill's right," he said.  "They need men."

"Then why the hell you stirrin' us up laughin'?"

" 'Cause you don't know what kind a men they need."

"What you talkin' about?"

The ragged man reached a decision.  "Look," he said.  "How many men they say they want on your han'bill?"

"Eight hundred, an' that's in one little place."

"Orange color han'bill?"


"Give the name a the fella--says so and so, labor contractor?"

Pa reached in his pocket and brought out the folded handbill.  "That's right.  How'd you know?"

"Look," said the man.  "It don't make no sense.  This fella wants eight hundred men.  So he prints up five thousand of them things an' maybe twenty thousan' people sees 'em.  An' maybe two-three thousan' folks gets movin' account a this here han'bill.  Folks that's crazy with worry."

"But it don't make no sense!" Pa cried.

"Not till you see the fella that put out this here bill.  You'll see him, or somebody that's workin' for him.  You'll be a-campin' by a ditch, you an' fifty other famblies.  An' he'll come in.  He'll look in your tent an' see if you got anything lef' to eat.  An' if you got nothin', he says, 'Wanna job?'  An' you'll say, 'I sure do, mister.  I'll sure thank you for a chance to do some work.'  An' he'll say, 'I can use you.'  An' you'll say, 'When do I start?'  An' he'll tell you where to go, an' what time, an' then he'll go on.  Maybe he needs two hunderd men, so he talks to five hunderd, an' they tell other folks, an' when you get to the place, they's a thousan' men.  This here fella says, 'I'm payin' twenty cents an hour.'  An' maybe half a the men walk off.  But they's still five hunderd that's so goddamn hungry they'll work for nothin' but biscuits.  Well, this here fella's got a contract to pick them peaches or--chop that cotton.  You see now?  The more fellas he can get, an' the hungrier, less he's gonna pay.  An' he'll get a fella with kids if he can, 'cause--hell, I says I wasn't gonna fret ya."  The circle of faces looked coldly at him.  The eyes tested his words.  The ragged man grew self-conscious.  "I says I wasn't gonna fret ya, an' here I'm a-doin' it.  You gonna go on.  You ain't goin' back."  The silence hung on the porch.  And the light hissed, and a halo of moths swung around and around the lantern.  The ragged man went on nervously, "Lemme tell ya what to do when ya meet that fella says he got work.  Lemme tell ya.  Ast him what he's gonna pay.  Ast him to write down what he's gonna pay.  Ast him that.  I tell you men you're gonna get fooled if you don't."

The proprietor leaned forward in his chair, the better to see the ragged dirty man.  He scratched among the gray hairs on his chest.  He said coldly, "You sure you ain't one of these here troublemakers?  You sure you ain't a labor faker?"

And the ragged man cried, "I swear to God I ain't!"

"They's plenty of 'em," the proprietor said.  "Goin' aroun' stirrin' up trouble.  Gettin' folks mad.  Chiselin' in.  They's plenty of 'em.  Time's gonna come when we string 'em all up, all them troublemakers.  We gonna run 'em outa the country.  Man wants to work, O.K.  If he don't--the hell with him.  We ain't gonna let him stir up trouble."

The ragged man drew himself up.  "I tried to tell you fellas," he said.  "Somepin it took me a year to find out.  Took two kids dead, took my wife dead to show me.  But I can't tell you.  I should of knew that.  Nobody couldn't tell me, neither.  I can't tell ya about them little fellas layin' in the tent with their bellies puffed out an' jus' skin on their bones, an' shiverin' an' whinin' like pups, an' me runnin' aroun' tryin' to get work--not for money, not for wages!" he shouted.  "Jesus Christ, jus' for a cup a flour an' a spoon a lard.  An' then the coroner come.  'Them children died a heart failure,' he said.  Put it on his paper.  Shiverin', they was, an' their bellies stuck out like a pig bladder."

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Recent Reviews on Tendirls of Life

110th Review - A masterpiece, March 16, 2014

A moving depiction of the impact and meaningless nature of war and the motivational force of love. Regardless of the politics, the human cost is immeasurable. The travails of these characters will haunt you, as will their endless ability to survive. Not being familiar with the Korean war, the history was also fascinating. The only thing missing is a map.

111th Review - Extremely Emotional, March 18, 2014

Tendrils of Life by Owen Choi is a well written literary fiction and historical story which touched my heart. The author utilized some facts from history, documentaries, etc. There are illustrations of maps to help you visualize the various areas of the Korean War. I applaud the author. I rate this story five stars but in a sense I'm sorry I read this story because it is such an emotional one. I don't recommend this book to anyone who suffers from depression. Many times I discontinued reading this story. If this story was made into a film, I wouldn't wish to view it. I dreaded picking the book back up to read; the only reason I continued reading it further was because I was hoping the characters would get reunited with their loved ones.

The story depicts the catastrophic effects of wars, spoils of war:
families separated
family members killed
rape, etc.
Their instinct to survive, persevere, endure the torture they went through was greatly felt by me as a reader, as a human being. The various stories of the characters were heartbreaking. The characters walked around nearly dead searching for their loved ones. You'll read the stories of what so many people endured day after day only to get worse with the passing of time. Friends and strangers were willing to share what little they had left. This story had me continuously in tears.

There have been many wars, battles in the world, and most people don't wish to speak of the horrors they have experienced in their life. But, I believe such stories have to be written whether as nonfiction or fictional works to remind each of us how precious life is, to love each other; we don't know what tomorrow holds for us and our loved ones.

Josephine Calabrese
Writer, Lyricist, Publisher, Teacher

112th Review - Tendrils, March 21, 2014

Not an easy read, but tells the power of hope even in the horrors of war. I never had any insight into the Korean War before.

113th Review - A different perspective of the Korean War., March 26, 2014

This story line is easy to follow and well written. The characters have so much depth and are easy to get involved with.
I never paid a lot of attention to this war but thought I knew our role and what it was about. Wow does this become an eye opener telling the story from the Korean perspective and it is agonizing to read how much they suffered not just cruelty of their people but from us and all the other countries using them. The writing style is different but easy to follow and the story is gripping, tragic, and touching. I hope this author will offer us more insight into the history of his country.

114th Review - heart wrenching book, April 2, 2014

this is one of the saddest books I have ever read. I now have a much better understanding of the Korean war.
I am grateful to be born in the here and now.

115th Review - Fictional history, April 2, 2014

I liked the story okay, not a real cliff hanger, but interesting enough. I did enjoy reading through the perspective of the Korean writer since I did not know a lot about the events leading to the Korean War.

116th Review - interesting history of the Korean war, April 4, 2014

This was one of the best books I've ever read. I felt that I was a charter at times as as I became involved the book. Its quiet long so I may read a second time. Its a sweet love story but also one that opened the door for me to see communism as it is and how terrible human beings can treat each other.

117th Review - book review., April 14, 2014

I enjoyed this book because it is about a family during a time in history that really occurred. Even though the book is fictional it does have factual information about situations that occurred during the Korean War. I could not wait to see what was going to happen next.

118th Review - Sibling love, April 19, 2014

I never knew too much about the Korean War so this book gave me a lot of history on it. It's main character is a hero not only in my eyes but those of his family and others. Once he loses track of his sister you'll not want to put the book down.

119th Review - Okay 4 stars means I liked it and 3 stars means it was okay., April 28, 2014

 So I technically should have given this book 3 stars but I gave it 4, why? I gave it 4 stars because Amazon has set up it's algorithm so a book that gets 3 stars is punished disproportionally. So it gets a 4. Also I give it a 4 star rating because it is very close to being a 4 star book.
The book is actually very interesting. The story line is something new, South Korea, you don't read a lot of books based in south korea. The N. Koreans are invading and this is a tale following several families and what the war does to them. As I said the story is good, the writing is good, not great but good. The problem lies in the pace of the book. This book should/could have been 100 pages shorter and it would have been a great read. The author just won't let the characters move on and continues to bring us back in circles over and over and over. The author needs to hire a good editor that can cut this book and keep it moving and he would have a very good book on his hands.
As I mentioned before there are a few grammatical errors. Nothing that keeps you from enjoying the book just little things that give you pause for a second then you figure it out. However it doesn't bother me. I would much rather pay $3.99 or below and get a good book, from an Indie, with a few errors than to pay 3X as much (because the author had to hire 3-4 editors to catch all the errors) for an error free book. So please go in with the understanding that there are a few problems. Please don't find a couple of errors and then give him a 1 star because of it.(I see this all the time) 1 star means that you HATE the book. Can a few innocuous errors REALLY cause you to hate a book? 

To leave your comment

Click comments below the post

Rate this post