Amazing Kids! Magazine

A Whisper from the Past

By Sean Traynor, Editorial Adviser and Contributing Writer


Tommy reached down and pulled the covers over his head.

Tommy, I said GET UP! You know Dad has to get out to the fields before the other workers arrive,” his mother yelled up the stairs.

He opened his eyes expecting the morning sun to be streaming through the window but there was only darkness. He glanced over at the clock, which shone 5:15am. He groaned and slid his legs out over the side of the bed, dreading another day of picking strawberries. His father had allowed him to go out picking with his crew so that he could buy his own bicycle. At the time, he had agreed to it, he had appreciated the opportunity. Now, in the predawn light, all he wanted to do was curl back up under the covers.

After a quick breakfast, they headed out to the fields, his father shooting him occasional glances of pride as they rode side by side in the old truck. Tommy hopped out of the truck and immediately made his way out to the field. He wanted to get a head start on picking, before the sun became too hot and the other workers began kicking up dust. He grabbed a crate filled with small containers and picked his location. His hands expertly wove in and out of the leaves, breaking the stem about one-half inch from the plump ripe berries. The berries rolled in the palm of his hand, finding comfort there until he made a group of 4 berries and swiftly but gently laid them to rest in the container.

Without taking his eyes off the plants, his hands worked fluidly up and down, pulling the fruit as if it was on an invisible thread to the small jails for the nectar of the plants.

An hour later, his father brought another young boy over to him. His pants were much too short, exposing his brown, dirty legs. His dark hair was messy and half-covering his eyes. Although he looked too thin to stand on his own two feet, he had an energy that helped him keep up with the long strides of his father.

“Tommy, this is Jose. He will be working with us this week as well, to help out his family. I need you to show him the ropes.” His father patted the boy on the back and turned on his heels to return to his other workers.

“Hi,” Jose said shyly. “I hope you don’t mind showing me how to do this.”

“Just stay out of my way,” Tommy said.  Seeing the look of hurt in Jose’s eyes he continued,

“Follow along next to me and I’ll show you the best way to pick.”

For the next few hours, they worked side by side without a word. Tommy was thinking, Why would Dad do this to me? This kid is just slowing me down. I need to make money, I need to make money, I need to make money.  It became a mantra to push him to a faster picking pace.

The bell rang and he stopped and turned. He tapped Jose on the shoulder and they both walked to the truck parked in the middle of the field to eat their lunch. They both grabbed some homemade tortillas and a large cup of water and sat down on a trampled piece of field a few feet away from the others.

“We have 15 minutes to rest up,” Tommy said. “The sun gets too hot soon so we’ll have to call it a day by noon.  Your hands will feel a little raw tonight. Soak them in salt water and that will take the swelling down.”

Tommy noticed that Jose moved his hands out of view as he said, “I’ll be alright. Thanks.”

They passed the rest of the break time talking about the end of school and their families then returned to work.

At the end of the day, Tommy’s dad doled out the daily wages as he weighed the baskets of fruit. When Tommy and Jose arrived to the front of the line, his dad winked at him and then said in a very businesslike way, “Well, you boys worked well as a team today. I’ll weigh your takes together and split the weigh-in. A big smile lit across Jose’s face as Tommy’s dad counted out the money to him. Tommy scowled at his father, grabbed the money and quickly ran to sit in the truck until his father was finished. 

How dare Dad do that to me! Tommy fumed. I got there much earlier than Jose and worked much faster than him. That is SO unfair! The more he waited, the angrier Tommy got. When his father returned to the truck, he forgot to thank his father for letting him join the picking team during the summer. All he could think about was the money he probably had been cheated out of. He stormed into the house, told his mother he would eat his dinner in his room and he spent the rest of the evening alone, brooding in his room.

That night Tommy went to bed, exhausted. In the middle of the night, he thought he heard a slow, deep western accented voice say, “Follow your heart, not your money belt.” Before him was a middle-aged man with a young man’s build but a knowing look on his bearded face that made him appear much older. There was dark soot or dirt covering his face, making the whites of his eyes appear to be as white as snow.

As quickly as the image appeared in his mind, it vanished. His eyes shot open and he sat up in bed. In his mind he could still see the bearded face of the man in his dreams. He shook his head and lay back down to sleep, tossing and turning until he could finally put the face out of his mind.

The next morning he had to drag himself out of bed again. He was determined to work even harder today to show his dad that he deserved more money than Jose. When they arrived at the field, he purposely veered to the opposite end of the field from where Jose was waiting.

Kicking the dirt with the toe of his boot, he was surprised to look up to see Jose coming his way. He was wearing the same clothes he had on yesterday but he seemed different. Tommy continued to look at him to figure out what it was and then it occurred to him, instead of constantly looking down, Jose was looking right at him with a smile.

“Hey, Tommy. Thanks for helping me out yesterday. Do you mind if I work with you again today?”

The look in Jose’s eyes hypnotized Tommy into saying “Yes” when his mind was telling him to turn away.

As the day became hotter, Tommy found himself talking to Jose and occasionally letting out a laugh. It seemed to make the day go by faster. Unlike yesterday where his money mantra made the seconds crawl by at a snail’s pace, the break bell rang earlier than he expected.

At the end of the day his father weighed their pickings together again, congratulating them on increasing their weight from the day before.

Sitting in the truck, Tommy tapped his fingers impatiently on the dashboard. He sat on the edge of the seat and then leaned back again. By the time his father had hauled himself into the cab of the truck, Tommy blurted out, “Dad, why do I have to split the take of the day with Jose?  It is unfair. I work much harder than him.”

His father looked at him with a sad frown. “That’s the way it’s gonna be Tommy. If you want to work, you’ll work together or not at all.” He roughly shifted the car into gear and the tires made a skidding noise as they jerked out of the field.

The shoe was on the other foot at dinner. His father did not say a word to him or his mother even though Tommy made several attempts to get his attention.  By the time Tommy went to bed, he tossed and turned until he finally drifted off to sleep.

Floating through fog, he dragged his feet further. It felt as if he was trudging through freshly wet mud. He came to a crossroad. On one side was a tree with ornaments made in the shape of hearts that glistened in the sun. Down the other fork he saw a treasure chest of gold. He began to make his way down the treasure path when the same bearded traveler passed him on the road. Only tonight it seemed as if the lines in his face were deeper and his shoulders slumped in a way that made him avoid his gaze. He was holding a pickax with dirt still caked on the ends and his clothes were hanging on him, as if he had shrunk two sizes. He wore a bandana around his neck and a money belt around his waist.

“Follow your heart, son. Not your money belt,” the man said, patting his money belt as he said it. Tommy looked over to meet his penetrating eyes for one split second and then he vanished.

Like a crack of thunder, he was back again in his room with his warm comforter surrounding him. He snuck down to the downstairs couch and decided to sleep there for the rest of the night.

He awoke the next morning to his mother pulling the comforter up close under his chin. He squirmed and almost fell off the couch.

“Tommy, what are you doing down here?” she whispered in his ear.

“I had a nightmare, Mom,” Tommy admitted, burying his face back into the pillow.

“Tell me all about it,” she said in a reassuring tone as she slid in next to him on the couch.

Over the next ten minutes Tommy told his mom all about his dreams.

“What do you think they mean, Mom?” he asked, scooting over so that he could look straight into his mother’s face.

“Well Tommy,” she began. “I remember a story about your great, great grandfather William that I heard from your grandmother. She said that your great, great grandfather was a gold miner in the California Gold Rush in 1851. He had seen many people coming back from their prospecting very rich men. Living a hard life on a farm with his wife and two sons, he decided to take most of the money from his annual crop and run off to California to seek his fortune. His wife and sons tried every way they could to convince him to stay home, but all he could think of was the money from the gold. By the time he had made his way to the gold mining camp, he didn’t have any extra money to live on. He lived in a tent and cooked all his meals over an open fire. He barely made enough money each day to eat beans, bacon or local game to live on. The little gold he collected he hid in his money belt. Sickness and colds were common and he would write his family letters of how difficult living in the camps was. The first winter the other campers went to San Francisco because the winters were known for their heavy rain and snow. With constant dreams of the gold, he stayed in the camp with a few fellow miners. Two months went by and they barely survived.  Then one day, they were able to find a little gold.  The excitement fueled him into spending long hours each day mining and searching for more treasure. Even past the time when he promised his family he would return home, his eyes only saw the slight glimmer in the cracks of the rock and he would say, ‘just a little longer.’”

She gave him a little hug and continued on. “He worked along another worker, Ely, who had become his best friend in the camp. From morning until night they panned the streams for gold. Through the chilling wind and snow, they kept working, only thinking of the gold. Finally his friend told him that he wanted to stop and return home.  William kept thinking that he could get just a little more gold so he told his friend Ely that he wanted to keep working. The time away from his family had made William ignore the pull of his heart and want to go after his wallet. He convinced Ely to stay just a little longer. However, William caught scurvy from not eating enough fruits and vegetables and his health quickly declined. He ended up dying, but before he did, he told Ely to send his share of the gold to his family with his love. Ely was a true friend and brought the money to William’s family even though he had a wife that needed him in Arizona. Ely was honest and helped your family start the family fruit farm and then he returned home.”

His mother gave him a light kiss on his forehead and tucked him back in. “Now go back to sleep.”

That morning Tommy got up and rushed to eat his breakfast. He was first in the truck and jumped out as soon as they reached the field. He found Jose and invited him to join him in the field.  Throughout the day he found out that Jose was working the fields in order to help his family have food on the table. Suddenly Tommy’s bike didn’t seem as important as it did just one week ago. As the bell rang for lunch, Tommy looked down and there, shining in the sun, was a gold heart that must have fallen off of someone’s chain. He picked it up and put it in his pocket. He put his arm around Jose’s shoulders and they walked together to the sandwiches.

At the end of the day his father was divvying out the daily fee for the fruit picked. His dad started to weigh Tommy’s fruit separately.

“Oh no, Dad. Jose and I are a team. Weigh ours together and then give Jose the money.”

His father looked at him with a confused look on his face and then a slow smile crept up to replace it. His father weighed the fruit and gave Jose the wages. Jose’s jaw dropped open when it was counted out to him then he grinned and shook his father’s hand with a firm grip.

That night Tommy went into a deep sleep. He didn’t have a single dream because he had learned the important lesson that his relative William had learned so long ago – following your heart is much more gratifying than keeping everything to yourself. He no longer would think of himself first. He had friends and family that were more important than anything shiny could ever be.