Monday, May 11, 2009

Old Hometown

She often writes of the days of yore, when our hometown was a different place. It was a slower, simpler day, and her writing sparks memories and tugs at my heartstrings.

She wrote this morning of the farm fields which were in and around our town. There were expansive acres of potatoes, dotted with bent over migrants who worked the farms. These people would make a trek each season, from the southern states, to work until after the harvesting. I would often see these strangers, their black skin and clothing covered with rich, brown soil. They would pass my grandmother's house, wearing stocking caps or ragged turban-type coverings to protect their hair from the dirt. They frightened me, but never so much as spoke to me. I guess it was the fact that they were not familiar to me, like most everyone else in town was.

While on the job, they would live together in group housing, places that were usually not much more than shanties or shacks located somewhere near the farms. I would imagine that living conditions in such places were not very good. Too many people in too small an area can cause difficulties and frayed nerves. At times we'd hear or read of some disturbance at one of the 'migrant camps' and police would be called to settle the matter in a lawful way.

Old tractors were seen putting along the Montauk Highway, slowing the cars traveling east to west. Somehow, it never seemed to bother the drivers of the automobiles behind the farm equipment. It was a way of life and people were tolerant of those who were making a living by working the land. We learned quickly, as young girls helping with household chores, that 'potato dust' made its way to window sills inside house and it had to be removed nearly day during the farming season.

These days, the farms are all but gone. Most have been sold to developers and the fields have grown up with large, unbelievably expensive, houses. There is no need for migrant camps as the migrant workers no longer make their way north for potato planting and harvesting. Tractors on the highway are rare. Patience of drivers on the road is also rare, and slow-moving equipment would not be looked upon kindly. Everyone is in such a hurry to get wherever they are going.

I am sorry to say that things are not the same in the old hometown. The landscape has changed, the people have changed, the attitudes have been altered. It is all too obvious. I'd rather slip back in time and remember how things used to be, when life was as simple, when traffic was slower, and when the potato dust rode a Spring breeze.