Nebraska 17 – ‘La Nebraska’ by Lenora Castillo

From Tide-water baptism. Digital Repository @ Iowa State University, 1998

The promise of work brought my family north
crossing the never ending Texas plain in a tarp-covered truck.
Torn from a long tradition of family gatherings,
bodas, quinceañeras and christenings
we watched in silence
as the undulating heat made the miles of highway disappear.

My mother, feet swollen and pregnant
stood beside my father, four children pressed around her.
Other families, exchanged words of encouragement
and made promesas to the saints for a safe, fast trip
but there was always another town,
a few more miles.

n Colorado, long rows of barracks-like buildings
welcomed us as we stepped off the truck.
Questions of “who can work” quickly reduced our family
to tally marks on a clipboard: 4 workers, 2 babies
Sleep eventually caught up with us as we inched our way
through food lines, blanket lines.

The first truck, bound for Montana came and went,
its quota filled, leaving behind disappointed faces
and talk of the next one, the next one will be for us.
Children laughed and played,
making friendships that could last days
if they were lucky, hours if they weren’t.
Two weeks went by, another truck arrived.
Single men, couples and families (my family) boarded.
filling a wish-list from farmers in a state called Nebraska.

Nebraska, people whispered, a place where snow drifts
can get higher than a person’s head
and sometimes, over the roofs of the field laborers’ houses,
summers so hot, that paint on cars fade.
But that promise of work urged us north.

Easter, 1950.
We arrived on a small farm in the middle of nowhere.
Here, the air was clear and fresh like the ice cold well-water
that quenched our thirst. Scotts Bluff Monument,
a dark apparition rising from the flat prairie,
silently watched us through the cracks in our walls.

Nebraska
a good place to work and raise children my parents decide
but the others packed their belongings,
afraid of the snow and ice of winter and tornadoes
that fall out of the sky like thin black snakes from a torn gunny sack.
We promised to carry on the traditions: family gatherings, bodas,
quinceañeras and christenings. No they said.
There are no barrios here, no corner drug stores.
No hay gente…
There is nothing but the wind that moans like the Llorona
looking for her children.

We watched in silence as they disappeared in the undulating heat.

A simple connection for me is with the observation about the winter snow and the summer heat: both so true. I remember well the significant snowfalls, and the humid heat of summer; also the tornadoes, though never in one, but I spent a number of nights in the basement of our various houses during summer tornado warnings, recalling especially one in Norfolk after the sirens had sounded and, in the morning, finding my childhood swing-set destroyed by a fallen garden tree.

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