The next society or world I entered was the plant in Yuba City that my cousin worked at as an inspector before she retired a few years back. That afternoon after the Ruskin I was on a plane headed north to Sacramento. Then drove north through the dark up 99 to a small town where my cousin has lived since leaving Creek Indian territory in her early twenties. She was a champion barrel racer, known for her love and way with horses and animals.
The next day we went visiting her friends and old co-workers. She hasn’t been getting around very well on her own: knee problems and the general heaviness of life--one’s related to the other. We drove over to Yuba City, to a dried fruit and nut plant where many of her friends still work, a place she used to do inspections. It took us awhile to navigate up the walk and through the plant with my cousin and her walker. I imagine how frustrating it is for her, this woman at her best on the back of a spirited horse. She steered us to the cafeteria to wait for her friend. This friend has taken good care of my cousin. She has assisted her in the way someone would assist a beloved relative. I wanted to meet her and thank her.
The walls of the cafeteria were decorated with cubbies that held several hundred lunch boxes, ice chests and bags of the employees. The employees came in and out and were of just about every ethnic group possible in this country: Laotian, Mexican, local Indian, Irish, Pakistani, African and more. We sat there and visited with just about everyone who came through. Many knew my cousin and were surprised and happy to see her. We heard several stories as we waited there: of retirement, break-ups, weddings, deaths, struggles and other intrigues. What struck me was the connection between everyone. This was community; this was family, though there were cultural differences of huge leaps that could never be crossed. They spent most of their waking hours with each other and had been through everything together. I was accepted and dealt with as a human being, not as someone with a title or other status. I was my cousin’s cousin, first of all, and a visitor to their community, second of all. I was offered and accepted food, smiles, handshakes, hugs and good wishes.
Eventually my cousin’s benefactor got off her shift and came out. She was a giant of a woman: red-haired and tough and a heart bigger than the plant. She looks after a small ranch with horses and cows, some teenagers (one is her own), a few organizations, and some others she’s adopted, like my cousin. And she puts in a full shift every day at the plant. I admire her. You won’t see her name blazoned in Hollywood or the newspapers, but what she’s done of her life is worthy of such acknowledgement. She’s a real human being.
I was reminded of my years of struggle when my son was a few years old and we lived in Santa Fe on not much money. Though people didn’t have much in our poor community they were willing to share. In that neighborhood we shared food, good luck, the bad, all of it. And we mixed in a little singing, dancing and celebration. And we got by. And we seemed alot happier than many who appear to have it all.