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?"

"No."

"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.

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