brothers, we passed the home of “Old” Charlie Partida. This renter from Mexico was Adalia’s first permanent settler. Hastily erected shacks made from old lumber lined one border of his front yard. These poor constructions, little more than four walls, roofs, and dirt floors, held families imported from Mexico. Initially they perforthed seasonal labor, but as the years passed many similar families throughout the area would remain to rent land on the halves or work as day laborers. To win prizes, my brothers and I sometimes sold “art” pictures and flower seed to these destitute people. We were amazed that human beings could live in such surroundings. They carried water in buckets from a stock tank and cooked on open fires outside their shacks. I don’t think I ever made a sale without a sense of guilt, taking money to win a baseball glove or a toy movie projector. Garden or vegetable seed would not sell because King Cotton claimed every foot of soil not planted in corn or cane. Flower seed were in demand since they could be planted in old tubs. Charlie Partida rented on the halves from the biggest landowner in Adalia. I thought this gentleman-farmer was the spitting image of John Knott’s Old Man Texas appearing in our Semi-Weekly Farm News, published in Dallas. His imposing mansion the epitome of the Old South. By 1960, this home had become a hay barn, its magnificant portico torn away, its graceful columns burned for firewood. In the spacious front yard, ragweeds and cockleburs had overcome neglected flowering trees and shrubs. Gazing with wonder as a school boy on Old Man Texas paradisical home, I had no idea its loveliness would ever pass. And the big white schoolhouse with its steepled belfry sending melodious tones over the countryside seemed as fixed as the stars. It too was torn down, the lumber used for a one-room school. At that age, of course, I had never heard that the only unchanging thing is change itself. But Old Man Texas moved to town and so did other landowners. During a period of several years they were replaced by a few Anglos who rented the farms on the third and fourth, which meant giving the landowner a third of the corn and a fourth of the cotton. Fourth renters were scarce; in this system the renter gave a fourth of the cotton and paid six dollars an acre for corn and cane land. \(The sixdollar fee was eventually raised to ten Generally landlords preferred Hispanics, 20 OCTOBER 14, 1983 who rented on the halves and were furnished teams and implements. One landlord built a commissary to provide his half-renters with credit for groceries. The renter hoped that, after the crops were gathered in the fall, his earnings would be sufficient to clear him of debt. Usually he came up short and would be retained for another year. Principal items stocked by the commissary were flour, pinto beans, shortening, and Prince Albert tobacco. It was not usual to hear “This is no longer a white man’s country.” Born in an early day, anti-Mexican sentiment was rooted like the tenacious Johnson grass which one day infested the land. Not the least of ethnic coalescence ever evolved. Living apart, the immigrant from south of the border existed in a social vacuum. He was called “shuck,” “greaser,” “pepper belly.” I once played with Lupe in our mesquite pasture during a rainy spell when the cotton fields were too wet for work. This twelve-year-old boy lived with his parents in a tent. The acquaintance began with his coming to our house to buy eggs. “Hello, gotta eggies?” “Si, me gotta.” This conversation was typical of the vocabulary we used. Though small for his age, Lupe’s body was hard as nails. From sun to sun he could pick over two hundred pounds of cotton while I struggled for a hundred. From a high mesquite branch he could “skin the cat,” drop a dozen feet, and hit the ground running. At work he whistled or sang. I remember a verse from one of his romantic songs, though I cannot vouch for its grammatical accuracy: Alla viene mi chinita Vestida de azul celeste. Esa mujer que sea el mio Aunque mi vida le cueste. Lupe introduced me to the delicious tortilla rolled up with scrambled eggs cooked with young, tender prickly pear leaves. He preferred this food mixed with a sprinkling of chili pequin, the little hot pepper which grew wild in pastures. I liked mine plain. Though I did not know his name, one itinerant cotton picker from Mexico possessed an unusual artistic ability. The shiny yellow boards that covered two windows of Old Man Texas’ little grocery store serving as a canvas, this unknown artist made pencil sketches of peasant life in Mexico. These fine drawings inspired my interest in art. Munching on a ginger cake covered with mouthwatering white icing, which I bought for a nickel, I could admire the work for hours. No fights or violence occurred in Adalia. But we heard about the murder of an Hispanic in one section of the country. We also heard that the killer would not face trial. When asked why not, a neighbor replied, “Why, the Mexican sassed a white man.” Except for the school, the heart of Adalia’s social structure, no other unifying force held the community together. In 1910, singing lessons were taught in the building on Sunday afternoons. A baseball team played on the grounds through 1915. Until about 1922, school programs, box suppers, and schoolclosing picnics brought the people together. Actually Adalia had begun to disappear some years before the Depression. Automobiles for example, put Adalia on wheels and opened up new vistas, especially for the young people. Still fresh in memory is Father’s coming home in a brand new 1917 Maxwell. The vibrating machine made my teeth chatter as I inhaled the foreign scent of new leather and gasoline with surreys and buggies imprisoned in sheds, Fords, Chevrolets, and Hudsons stirred high the dust on Adalia’s dirt roads. Those roads led to faraway places, to other worlds. But when it rained, you were “stuck in the black mud,” and many Adalians suffered an isolation heretofore unknown. Once before owning the Maxwell, we were riding along in the surrey when we saw a car approaching. Father pulled the team to the roadside to get safely out of the way. He recognized the driver and waved. The driver looked straight ahead, paying us no attention. Later Father asked him why the greeting was not returned. “When you’re driving a car,” he replied, “you can’t take your eyes off the road.” During his twenty years in Adalia my father had expanded farming operations to include an additional fifty acres, necessary to support the family. His children, like many others, saw no satisfying livelihood to be gained from the wasted land of run-down farms. Towns and cities offered opportunities lacking in Adalia. Some things I would miss but never forget. A clay hillside with bluebonnets in the spring, fishing for perch under cool willows when crops were laid by, burning cornstalks on fall nights, cutting green mesquite wood while feeding our cows seared prickly pear leaves, the comfort of a fireplace when blue northers raged across the prairis . . . We left, though leaving was not easy.
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