Saturday, January 03, 2004

When all the votes are counted and new teachings absorbed, ...

I strongly suspect that how our little community eventually worked our way through the misery of the process of racial integration was as much due to humor and craziness as to any changing legislation or moral code adjustments.

Jean Martinez enters from stage left:

Still very much aware of being the primary source of the neighborhood's on-going entertainment, I was determined to be the best little brown Doris Day on the planet. In keeping with this role-playing, (I'm sure this was the Dorothy McGuire "Egg and I" stage in my social development), I'd bought myself new pedal pushers with matching tennis shoes and a color-coordinated multi-pocketed smock with places for trowels, bulb planters, hand pruners, ties for tendrils. One good nudge and my 100 pounds of pretty would have plopped over in a heap!

Also, had gone to the local nursery and spent almost $300 at a 1 cent sale (the sign said, "buy one get another for a penny" and who could resist that?). I'd bought ornamental trees, shrubs, bulbs, wisteria in cans, fruit trees, etc., all delivered to my driveway. This was to be my staging area. For several days I poured over Sunset's Gardening Book and tried to recall to the best of my ability those lessons learned long ago at the knee of Papa George in that little truck garden adjacent to his little overcrowded shotgun bungalow in East Oakland. But it seemed to me that all that yielded was how to tie string beans to poles and how to water tomatoes and dig potatoes.  After all, I was only a child then and capable of little more. The only thing I could recall about trees was that the almond tree in our field could only bear fruit because there was a male tree on Mr. Mueller's acres. This was the extent of my horticultural expertise. So trees were sexed. Who knew?

About a week after delivery, and after walking over the land and assessing the state of viability of each tree (they all looked very old and decrepit to me -- especially the apricots and pear trees). I distributed one gallon can of new tree next to each old one that I was sure would die off within the year, at least. Most of those old trees are probably still standing. This took several days during which time Jean Martinez (I would later learn that she lived up the road about a half mile) had driven past a number of times on her trips to and from Al's grocery store. Ours was a corner lot with the house sitting below street level in a kind of amphitheater-shaped site. There was full visibility to anyone driving from either direction.

On this particular morning, deep into the process, I sat on the warm ground with my well-thumbed copy of Sunset on the ground beside me. I had my steel tape measure (in one of my smock pockets, of course) and had very carefully measured the depth of the hole I'd dug with my brand new blue-handled shovel. I must have sat there examining that peach tree with the burlap wrap covering its roots, for over an hour. Jean could stand it no longer. She pulled around the corner in her little car and into my driveway. She then walked out to where I was still pouring over Sunset and introduced herself, "...I'm Jean Martinez and this is my daughter, Juanita." Juanita was about Bobby's age, and a darling little dark-haired girl. Our very deep and abiding friendship started with this exchange...

Jean: "You seem to be stuck. Can I be of help?"

Betty: "Well, I hope you can. "It says here (pointing to my fancy Gardening Book), that I must be sure to cover the ball of the tree, and I can't seem to find it."