Wednesday, January 28, 2009

To have and to hold

What's mine is mine

My grandfather liked to think he ran a taut but happy ship, but he was still surprised to hear the tuneless whistling coming from behind the dairy barn. He circled the building to where he found Josezinho pitching hay into the manger of the calf pen. Josezinho noticed the presence of his boss and paused for a moment, leaning on the handle of his pitchfork.

Bom dia, patrão.”

Bom dia, Josezinho,” replied my grandfather. “You seem especially happy this morning.”

“Yes, patrão. I have good news. Very good news.”

Josezinho pulled a carefully folded letter out of the pocket of his jeans and passed it to his boss. It was postmarked the Azores, and it was from Josezinho's wife, who was awaiting her husband's return after he had made his stake in the United States. Forty years earlier my grandfather had faced a similar prospect, joining the stream of Azorean men who came to the U.S. to earn enough American dollars to return to the Portuguese islands as men of substance. In Grandpa's case, however, his wife had vetoed the idea of his going by himself. Grandma's insistence on accompanying her husband had transplanted the entire family to California, inadvertently setting the stage for their permanent residency in the U.S. Now my grandfather was one of the well-off American employers who could pay munificent wages to immigrant workers.

He unfolded the letter and scanned it quickly. For several seconds Grandpa was speechless. He looked back up at the smiling Josezinho with a puzzled expression on his face.

“You see why I am happy, patrão? I have a son!” Josezinho's grin broadened.

My grandfather cleared his throat.

“Yes, Josezinho. Yes. Your wife says she had a healthy little boy who is doing very well.”

“Yes, he is strong, like his father!”

Grandpa paused for a long painful moment.

“Josezinho— You must know— Uh, yes.” Grandpa took a deep breath and tried again. “Josezinho, you know how long you've been working for us.”

“Of course, patrão. I remember very well. It will be two years next month.”

My grandfather waited for Josezinho to grasp the nettle, but his hired hand was still beaming.

“But, Josezinho, you haven't been with your wife in almost two years. I'm very sorry, Josezinho, but there is no way that boy can be yours. How could you not see that?”

Josezinho stood up straight in his righteous wrath, took back his letter, and answered his boss emphatically.

“What do you mean, patrão? She is my wife! She had a son. That boy is mine! You see that calf right there?” Josezinho pointed at one of the young cows he had been feeding. “You call that your calf, don't you? Because its mother is your cow. Same thing. My wife has a son, so it is my son!”

Josezinho sniffed indignantly and took hold of his pitchfork again, stabbing it into a bale of hay and breaking it apart so that he could resume his feeding of the calves. My grandfather stood regarding his employee for a while longer and finally nodded his head.

“All right, Josezinho, all right. Thank you for explaining. Congratulations on your son.”

Somewhat mollified, Josezinho gave his boss a curt nod in acknowledgment and redoubled his hay pitching. Grandpa turned and walked away, waiting till he rounded the barn before shaking his head in bemusement.

3 comments:

Sili said...

Admirable.

I'd like to be like that.

(captcha: caticer - what the weather's been to my mog lately.)

Karen said...

Were I Jozinho's wife, I'm not sure I'd care to be compared to a unit of livestock. But clearly the man understood the frailty of human nature under the strain of long separation.

He strikes me as the kind of person who makes damned good lemonade.

The Ridger, FCD said...

There's a certain pragmatic value to this, as well - how long might a family be apart, and how many men lost the chance for an heir?