The Grapes of
On Burr Road, Part 5
In August, the tomatoes began to ripen in the Lake Area fruit and vegetable farms. All along our county's Lake Erie border, from Westfield to Silver Creek, the tomato fields little by little surrendered their pure green to the advance of ripe red fruit. And crowds of workers, many of them immigrant Puerto Ricans, began to dot the fields, along with baskets full of red tomatoes.
Among the laborers, the tomatoes, and the weeds, were Chris and the big sisters, and sometimes Dad. They bent their backs and filled their baskets as fast as they could rob the vines of their fruit. They got paid by the basket, so speed was always on their minds. Also, the girls were extremely competitive and tried to outdo each other in the number of baskets they picked each day. Even more important than speed, however, was delivering a good quality, well-filled basket of tomatoes. "Always give good measure." Dad had emphasized this saying so often that it had become more than just a saying—it was a precept by which their actions were guided.
Another request for help came our way when the Beckers' baby boy was born, and Nancy landed work there as a part-time maid. Snow and cold overtook us early that fall, as it often does in New York. Mom and Rebecca had finished their stint at Dunkirk Ice Cream, and Lydia was teaching school again, this time in an upstairs hall, where we had the needed space and privacy. Nancy usually worked for Olive Becker in the afternoon.
One such afternoon, when her housekeeping and babysitting chores were done and Gaius was taking her home, Nancy met with a shock which would affect her for many months afterwards. There was a fresh covering of snow on the ground, and on one of the roadside slopes, a couple of teenage boys were taking advantage of the slippery conditions to coast their sleds.
Coming over a hill, Nancy and Gaius saw nothing of the activity until a sled and its rider appeared from behind a house and shot right into the path of their pickup. Gaius gasped and braked sharply, and then they felt the low thud of their truck's chassis meeting resistance. Neither Nancy nor Gaius said a word. They climbed out of the truck quickly, and Nancy bent down just long enough to glimpse a pair of trousered legs and heavy winter boots wedged under the truck's front axle. The legs were not moving, but muffled moans came from somewhere deep underneath the vehicle. Nancy backed off and stiffened. Gaius sent for ambulances, then turned to Nancy, who looked close to becoming a casualty herself. "Go to Jay's," he told her. "ask them to use the phone and call Olive to tell her what happened." Relieved to have a course of action, Nancy set off at a run.
When Nancy opened the door and stepped into our living room that night, her usual carefree look was missing. She looked sick, and she was sick. She'd gone into some degree of shock, and had run too fast in the cold, first up the long, steep hill to the Nobles to make the phone call, and then on home—a mile in all. She could scarcely get her breath to tell us what had happened.
After the accident, Nancy had odd health problems—pain in her chest and arms, and poor energy levels that kept her from doing strenuous work. Doctors weren't able to diagnose her condition. But Mom and Lydia said it might have come from running too hard in the cold the night after the accident. It took over a year for Nancy to regain her former vitality.
The 16-year-old accident victim suffered severe trauma to his head, which left him in a temporary coma. From what we heard, he eventually recovered from the injury.
© 1994, Hannah Lapp