Chapter 24

With the cold, nippy winds settling in the Valley, William, Everett, Oliver, and a neighbor would start butchering the hogs. William was using the knowledge he had gained as a lad working in a Texas packing house so he could buy his first cowboy outfit.

As the men were outside finishing the butchering, Mama would be at her stove, making head cheese and scrapple. There was very little of the hog that was not used one way or another. We would have pork roasts for many days to come, and later, Mama would render the leaf lard until it looked like the "driven snow" as she would put it. The lard promised many batches of french-fried potatoes, doughnuts, and pumpkin pies, not to forget the mince pies made with real brandy. The surplus fat was saved for the soap which gave Mama pride to display.

Several days later, Mama rose before dawn so she and Papa could grind and season the sausage. Then Papa would put on his pressed Oxford suit, his stiff bosom shirt with the starched collar and the narrow, black bow tie, his tailored overcoat and broad-brimmed Stetson, and get into the Model T Ford and go to Bakersfield to sell it from door to door.

Even though he had a good list of customers who clamored for his pork sausage all winter long, it still didn't yield enough money. It was not enough to satisfy the bank and give them their margin of profit and pay the delinquent power bills for the water that had to be pumped from the ever-lowering underground water table.

Still harder than butchering, or the cutting up, or the meat grinding into sausage, even the door-to-door selling, harder than all that was the going to the bank when in ~~ or a note was to be met. Hardest of all was saying:

"I cannot meet it."

"It seems no matter how hard a man tries, he cannot keep his word anymore," he grumbled all the way.

"The grasping, Christless corporations with their blood money are causing the people to leave the land. Heathenish power companies with their pound of flesh are evicting the people from their land as cruelly and surely as though they set their homes on fire. Overweight, plutocrats with greedy demands for interest make it impossible for an honest man, a hard-working man with a family to make a living anymore."

Still he would fight on and on, for the good he knew that had to be done.

The day would come.

Work. Work. Work.

Work, that was what a man must do. Work for that day when the Valley would unite and have water.

The rain would be moved: with God's help it would be. But now one had to work. Work, work, work.

I graduated from college that June, and took a job on the LOS ANGELES TIMES. Papa met me one morning at two o'clock and persuaded me to give it up and return to the ranch where I was badly needed to help ward off the black discouragement that was closing in on the Valley.

"You can get a job teaching school," he said.

"But I'm not trained as a teacher," I protested.

"They will not be particular as badly as teachers are needed."

The settlers fast filled the Valley during the post war years so school facilities were inadequate. Beside the district had not accumulated enough attendance monies to meet the salaries of the more experienced teachers.

I got a job teaching at the Maple School. I also took a night school job, teaching English to Russian and German immigrants preparing them for citizenship. There were now more non-English-speaking families in Shafter than there were English-speaking people.

Since the Model T was in use on the ranch, I rode a mustang to the Maple School five miles away. Everett had broken it for me; it was a fiery little animal with a fast gait. Mot of my students, forty-nine in all in the three primary grades, were children of Russian or German immigrants whom I taught at night. The upper five grades occupied the school house proper and a temporary, barn-like structure called a "soup house" served as quarters for my forty-nine lower grades. Afternoons, on the way home, I would single-foot over to the post office in town and pick up the mail.

One afternoon I brought home the notice from the Farm Bureau of a meeting called to discuss the most vital issue of 1920. Water!

Father had waited long for this to come. "Let's all go," he said, "the boys and you, too, Sister." He was so glad for the opportunity to associate with the people who were his near neighbors. He had been so cut off from society these past three years.

"But I have my Americanization class to teach tonight," I tried to excuse myself.

"Come afterwards, and bring your class with you."

"The farmers are Russian, and speak no English."

"Bring them anyway. We need a good turnout."

There were only two women attending my classes: Mary Malofy and her sister Dora Rilcolf, who were Russians and lived a quarter-mile away from us. They drove to school in a buggy with Mrs. Rilcolf's husband driving, a heavy set, bearded man he was with a face that was shining and resembled the face of a little boy who had used too much soap. Mary spoke good English and usually served as interpreter for the entire class. These Russians were good students, trying hard to learn English, and the rudiments of American history so they could become citizens.

When I thought of this fine family, I promised father I would explain how important water was to the arid Valley, and invite them to come. This little band of Russians worked so hard in the fields and seemed to be getting along well without changing, but perhaps for me they would come. We were on friendly terms and many evenings Everett and I on horseback would follow behind their buggy until we came to the parting of the way. We would wave good-bye and ride our short way home alone.

I closed school early that night, and we all joined the Farm Bureau meeting in time to get in on the discussion of water.

When they called for members of the Bureau to express their views on what should be done, Papa was first to rise. "It is apparent that everything man has done with his knowledge over these past seventy-five years is not enough to supply this end of the Valley with water."

I could see my night school students were embarrassed that they could not understand him. I rose from my seat and begged permission to say something.

"I teach night school here to those who wish to learn English. Many will get their citizenship papers in June. Mary, will you be kind enough to rise." Mary did so. She wore a troubled face. I continued, "You speak such good English. I am asking you to tell all who do not understand English, what my father is saying."

"We will have to ask God for more rain." she said in Russian.

There was a ripple of laughter in the audience.

Then William continued, "I came to this Valley in the early eighties and I have seen wet years and dry years, but I have never seen a dryer cycle than the one we have had these past three years.

"I have seen man try every possible plan to build dams, to fight floods with levees and dams, and by canal.

"I have seen optimistic men use every scheme to conquer a perverse Nature, only to watch the Sacramento Valley lose its battle to floods and the San Joaquin to lose its battle to drought." Father stopped a moment to allow Mary Malofy to translate this.

"It should be clear that everything man has done is not enough to keep these wild, northern torrents from flooding the sodden acres where the two great rivers meet to join and pour forth their billions of gallons of water into the sea. Everything man has done to get water on his arid land in summer has been in vain. Desperate farmers, with tiny mouths to feed, and hard-working loyal helpmates to support, should not have to give up their parched acres to the ever-widening desert." Mary paused with each phrase or clause, timing her interpretations with Papa's explanations.

"We will all have to call upon God to show us how to use His abundance and God will help us, for He, in His infinite mercy, never meant this to be. He never meant for our vineyards, alfalfa fields, potato patches, and our cotton fields to become sun-baked and abandoned, while the Sacramento River pours forth its many gallons of unused water through the Golden Gate." Once again he waited for Mary to repeat this to the Russian farmers so they would understand.

"What is needed is for us all to join together working for a common good, forgetting our own little, selfish, community interests. It is a State problem, not a Shafter problem. For fifty years Californians have been trying to find the answer to how this state can get needed water, and every time selfish men have blocked the way for those who have labored vainly.

"How long does this have to go on?

How long can the rotten politics and bribery and crookedness and selfish interest rob honest people of the right to earn their livelihood by the sweat of their brow?

What we need is to discover a plan to move God's rain--to work out a plan and then to work together so that in the end all will benefit, this generation and the next, so your children and mine, and our grandchildren and their children can all profit by it."

And then he closed with a Bible verse according to his custom, although it was more for himself than his audience.

For my people have committed two evils;

They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters,

And hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns,

That can hold no water.

"How long are we to hold a broken cistern in our hands when all we have to do is commit our cause to God and He will help us?"

He took out a large white silk handkerchief, wiped the sweat and the tears from his face, and sat down.

Mary Malofy rose and quickly went over what William had said. I saw her face brighten as she watched my father.

"Mr. Mullen," she said, "You don't know who I am, do you?"

He looked puzzled. "No, I don't. Have we met before?"

"Yes," said Mary. "You met us in Los Angeles. My brother went to your bootblack school; one Christmas he brought me with him to your Christmas Dinner and you gave me dinner and a doll. It was the first present I ever got in this country. I still have it."

His face lit up with a smile that made him seem years younger. He had not smiled that way in such a long time. He shook her hand warmly, then the hand of her sister and brother-in-law.

They stood there talking of their ranch, of the prosperity God was giving them, of the need for water. "Yes, the Lord has been good to us." Dora said in her broken English. "And we praise Him for it." Gratitude and thanksgiving were in her voice, and no hint of complaint for drought or hard work or low prices.

William was very quiet on the way home. Everett spoke enthusiastically of what irrigation could mean to the Valley, but William didn't talk of the meeting as he usually would have.

Finally he spoke. "To think my own children, my own Los Angeles Sunday School class were here all the time, and doing well, too. Industrious they are. Did you know that Mr. Rilcolf once had been exiled from Russia?"

They were a part of that suffering humanity to which he had belonged, refugees, persecuted Christians, believers who would follow Christ to the end. Their seeming indifference was understood now. It was hard for them, except for Mary, to talk to Americans. She was the youngest of that little family and had had more opportunity to become Americanized since she had come as a little girl, as he himself had come as a lad. They would tell others of this good, kind man who had taken them into his mission and fed them and taught them. He knew God had had a hand in this. Once again he was needed. Once again he was called!

William dreaded going to the bank tomorrow to ask for an extension of another loan.

"Owe no man anything but love," he said, shaking his head. How he owed the bank!

"There is something I want to study," he said when I suggested turning in. He had the bulky Strong Concordance open to "Curse," the subject he had been studying which was weighing on his heart. But meeting the Rilcolfs and Mary Malofy had made his position in the village clear. He was no longer cursed!

The next morning, he was up before anyone, stirring pancakes and singing! The old soapstone griddle was warming over the two burners of the range. Mama was setting the table in the dining room again. The cheerful mood did not seem conducive to eating in the kitchen. It reminded me of the early days before Papa became so burdened.

Mama knew, somehow, Papa would call for a Bible reading, even though we hadn't had a morning service in quite a while. So she brought the Bibles to the table and passed each one around to its proper owner.

"What will you have, Annie?" Papa asked, wanting to know what she wanted to read.

"Whatever you say."

William was on the powerful family throne again. "Let's read one of the Psalms," he said.
The thirty-seventh."

We all know that Psalm. It was one of Papa's favorites. The ninety-first was his top favorite. Mama's was the nineteenth, but the thirty-seventh was his test for confident living. Mama did not seem surprised that he called for it and almost turned to it before he said to.

"Fret not thyself because of evildoers,

Neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity . . .

Trust in the good Lord and do good . . .

Fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way,

Because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass . . .

Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; . . .

the wicked plotteth against the just,

The Lord shall laugh at him for he shall see his day coming . . .

A little that a righteous man hath

is better than the riches of many wicked . . .

For such as be blessed of Him shall inherit the earth;

And they that be cursed of Him shall be cut off.

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord

And he delighteth in His way . . . "

And then he came to the verse that had been his arrow in all his Mission days on the street.

"I have been young, and now am old;

Yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken,

Nor his seed begging bread."

He explained how he had been studying the meaning of "Curse". To curse one's neighbor was to cut him off from your influence. "God does not want us to curse our brothers." He knew he had been cursing his brethren but would do it no more, for he had plans to use his influence to get water for all his neighbors. In this common need, they would all be united.

Go to Chapter 25

Return to Table of Contents