NOW WE ARE PATRONES

When you are need of workers, you don’t need to do much – they will find you. When we were in our fields struggling to control the Johnson grass, several men came to offer their services.

The first one was Peña. He came on his bicycle, and after the customary catching-up and joking around, he slid into a conversation about the farming. Peña is a very short man. he is not a Little Person, but he is really very short. He demonstrated how he would spray our weeds for us, walking around and miming holding a sprayer in his hand. Chon and Peña were friends long ago, and Peña’s nickname comes from a talented soccer player on the Mexican team years ago.

Soon another guy came on his bike, with his little boy on the handlebars. He was interested in the work, but he mostly walked about hunting for worms (plaga) on our mIlo plants.  It seemed as though he wanted to bring our spirits down, or maybe just to show off his ability to find problems.

A day or so later, another guy came bicycling out to us. He was Don Andres. He looked like the friend-turned-enemy bad guy in an old western. He got right to the point – he wanted work. He needed work, and he was the guy to do the work. Instead of hiring a tractor to spray our weeds (it was absolutely necessary – they were growing faster than the milo), we hired Peña and Don Andres. From our point of view, it was a good move. The tractor would have finished the spraying job in a half-day. It took the two men nearly two weeks. But, we figured, we were investing money in the town, and not in a big-time farmer and his equipment. As the days went by, we were impressed by the work the two men did.

Now we are patrones, and every morning we go to the fields to manage our little crew of misfits. For days and days we filled and hauled barrels of water to the fields for the weed spray, stirred and mixed the spray. The for two more weeks we took 100-pound bags of ammonium sulfate granules and place them strategically in the field so the workers didn’t have to go too far to fill up their bags (called morrales). Being a patron (or a patrona) means you have peones working for you. That’s a word I’m having to learn to be comfortable with. But the peones are comfortable with it, even sort of bragging about their years as peones.

Chon is really good about deciding where each person should work, and about giving authority to some. He has to be very diplomatic. Right now Peña the very short man, is working with Don Andres, the man with a limp. Peña seems to sort of look out for Don Andres, filling his morro for him, and adjusts his own faster, steady pace to Don Andres’. You can see the two of them trudging along together, Don Andres’ head bobbing, and Peña floating along smoothly. There are some benefits in working the fields that just can’t be described in words.

The other two workers are brothers. The older one, Jose Santos, is called El Hombre Lobo because he has a rather hairy face, with a short full beard. I don’t know his brother’s name. They worked together in another part of the field. But then we had to tell the two brothers not to come – the 10 bags of fertilizer we were expecting yesterday did not arrive, and we drove to the business about 8 miles away to see why. Their delivery truck had broken down, and there were several anxious, angry farmers there. Anyway, this morning we took the seven bags we had out to Peña and Don Andres. They are working now.

The fertilizer should arrive shortly for tomorrow, and the brothers may show up to throw some today. They seem to prefer to start work at a later hour anyway.

Here at the house, the two bricklayers are getting ready for a big colado. The tejaban is up, with all its pieces fitted together. Tomorrow they will put a comparatively thin layer of cement on the top. We are hiring twenty-some guys, selected for their various strengths. The ones who are strong enough (they seem to be the most irritating to the rest of the workers) are put to work on the bottom, where the work is the heaviest. Chon hopes the hard work will keep them busy enough not to piss off everybody else. Short little Peña is working too, (he’ll make 50 pesos more than if he were working in the fields) and this morning he said he’s a little nervous about it because he’s so short, and most of the other guys are young (they call them nuevos when they are young) and strong. Don Andres will work with the fertilizer. The guy in charge of the colado says Don Andres just wouldn’t make it through to the end.

For the colado we have to do our part as patrones – we have to fill the water barrels today, before the water goes off at 1:15. There are three barrels to fill, plus the heavy tank we use for our baths. We have to supply beer, lots of it, usually served about half-way through the work. Chon says the workers are coming at 5 o’clock in the morning! That means I have to get the truck with the load of fertilizer out of the parking yard because there will be ladders and other things blocking the driveway.

So in a little while we are going to town. We will try to see the lawyer, who wasn’t there when we went two days ago, and buy a carton of large beers, and get a contract printed, signed and mailed to the property manager of our rental house in California. He had lots of bad news for us. Besides the new paint and carpet, there are major plumbing problems: the bathtub leaks into the living room below. The pan in the shower is weak and wobbly, and the downstairs toilet is cracked and un-useable. When it rains it pours. Hope it rains here in the next few days – there is a saint festival in the little town on the other side of the road, and they say it ALWAYS rains on August 7th, the day of their fiesta.

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