Marie was probably never tall and thin, but four children, years of hard work, and gravity have made her very short and stout. When she reaches her arms onto the check-in counter of the Bieber Motel, she almost has to raise them above her shoulders.
Like many people, Marie was initially cautious of me. A grey-haired man in garish biker gear is novel, but potentially weird. However, by the time we completed my check-in form, she must have decided I was okay, because her life story flowed with animated ease.
Marie is from Faial, an island in the Azores that she could walk around in one day. When the United States established a priority immigration program after an earthquake struck, Marie’s parents and eight children came to California. Marie was 12. At 17, she married a 21-year-old Faial neighbor who’d also emigrated. “We never got welfare, any of us. We came and we worked hard.” The week they were married Marie and her husband started a dairy farm outside of Sacramento. They never had a day off. They took their first vacation 28 years later, after they had raised their four children.
“I feel sorry for the Mexicans. They work so hard. But why don’t they come legally like the rest of us? We used to hire them on the diary farm. They had fake social security cards. We all knew they were fake but we needed workers and no one else would do the work. We paid social security. After a while we’d get a letter from the government telling us that number didn’t belong to that person. Then they disappeared to try their scam somewhere else.
“My oldest son works the ranch. My second son is in North Dakota working the oil fields, but that is slowing down and so he’s coming home. He calls me three or four times a day and says how much he wants to come home. I tell him, ‘you’re forty-five, why do you call so much?’ He’s coming home and will work the ranch, but he doesn’t get along with his older brother. I hope it works better this time.
“My daughter loves to farm. She’s down in Santa Rosa. Didn’t get married until she was thirty-five. ‘I won’t get married unless I can find a man who likes what I like.’ Thank god, she did. Her husband is a good man.”
“My youngest, he wanted nothing to do with farming. He didn’t understand the work has to be done when it has to be done. You can’t wait to milk the cows or bring in the hay. He’s had to find that out for himself.
“The dairy business is year round. But ranching is seven months. We have to make our money in the good weather, and then we can rest when the snow flies.”
In between explaining her life, Marie got the gist of my trip. “What you’re doing is remarkable. I have to contribute in some way. I’m only going to charge you half price.” I argued that I was prepared to pay for my room, but Marie insisted. She’s the kind of woman who gets her way. I had a very nice room for $25. But she wouldn’t let me take her picture, or reveal her last name.
How will we live tomorrow?
The way the world is going, it’s not good.”