I was five years old in 1914 when John, my stepfather, took us to visit one of the old Pochi families that he knew. They lived at a dairy ranch near Saticoy. My brother and sisters went there also. The grown-ups sat around and talked. I got bored with that and decided to go explore. The place smelled like poop. I didn’t mind the smell, there was just a lot of it around, mountains of it. The cows did not seem to mind stomping around in it. Neither did I.
There were tall fences and I couldn’t help myself, or stop myself from climbing up. The cows were inside this large fenced off area. They were eating hay. There was also a huge barrel of water for them. I got bored so I wandered off to see what else was there. I found a tall building where the cows went to get milked. It looked filthy in there, but I guess the farmer knew what he was doing.
I walked around the building. I stopped. Something was wrong. The ground was shaking. An earthquake! We were having an earthquake! I knew we had them here in California, but this time I really felt it. I looked around. Nothing else was moving. Then I heard this loud, angry moan. It was the roar of the devil himself. I felt my whole body shaking in fear, then I saw him through the fence. It was the demon bull and he looked angry. He was black as sin and huge and not happy. This fence I was looking through could never hold him back if he saw me. He stomped his hooves into the ground and I felt the earth shake again and he let out another angry roar. It was time to go back, I decided and ran back to my mama’s side.
She was in the kitchen with the other ladies. They were not cooking this time, just doing what the men were doing, only inside. One of the ladies wore a derby hat and she was puffing a big smelly cigar. Another lady wore western boots and trousers. She smiled at me as she took out a cigar and cut a piece off with her folding knife. She took the piece of cigar and stuffed it into her pipe and lit it up.
After a while I stopped shaking. My mama took a tortilla and buttered it. She rolled it up and sent me out to play. Delicious.
My exploring him days were over, so I decided to hang out with my brother Bobby and my sister Alice. They were with John and the other men. They were sitting around a campfire and telling stories. A lot of their stories made them laugh so I decided to stick around and maybe actually pay attention to what they were saying.
“It is getting time to vote again.” I heard one of the grown-ups say. His name was Chuy. He was a cousin of John. His job was to milk the cows. He worked outside a lot and his face and arms and neck were tanned to deep shades of darkness.
“This week we are going into the polls.” Cuco answered. He was Chuy’s brother. His job was to clean up all the manure the cows were making. I do not know how he did it but he already had a huge mountain of poop piled up.
“What are they saying?” I asked my sister Alice. She already knew a lot. She was in the first grade and almost spoke English, but she could not answer me. I tried to imagine them putting on rubber boots and climbing up poles, and then jumping from pole to pole. I wanted to see them do that.
Suddenly they began to talk about baseball. One the men said that he belonged to “la novena local.” (local team, ninth).
What does that mean? I asked myself.
“The other week I just went to a novena with my family. It was at the old church, but this crazy guy says he was at the novena and he started to play in right field.
One time I started to play with my brothers during the novena and I got spanked.
“Later I came up to bat and hit a fly.” The man was saying.
“¿Qué cosa es un fly? What kind of thing is a fly? ” I asked my sister.
“It is a fly. You know, mosca.” She answered. And now I was really confused. He said he hit a fly, with a bat, and it went very high and far away.
“I do not understand. Yesterday I hit a fly and it got squished.”
“The fly went very far away.” The man continued his story. And I still didn’t understand.
It doesn’t make sense to hit a fly with a bat, wait a minute when did he catch the bat? They only come out at night. How do you hit a fly with a rolled up newspaper then use that to hit a ball? How do flies go far away once you whacked him with the newspaper? And none of this made sense to me.
“I was safe on first and then I wanted to steal second but I was trapped.”
“What is he saying this guy? Now he is a thief and he runs around stealing things?”
“I got trapped and then they throw me out.” The man was saying. There must’ve been somebody really strong out there to be able to pick him up and throw him out of the park.
“And then Juan el Pito came to bat and he hit a foul.” The story went on. And again I asked my sister what’s a fowl. She told me that it was another word for chicken. Okay, now I was really confused. First they were hitting flies with bats and now they’re hitting chickens? What part of this game actually involves a ball?
A few days later I went to an actual baseball game in the back of the old Haydock School. I said to my sister once we got to the ballpark, “Hey look they have people there stuck in a cage as if there are monkeys.” I got scolded for saying that, but that’s what it looked like to me.
Then I heard the umpire say something strange.
“ Trae Juan, la traes tu!” (Strike one! Strike two!) The man throwing the ball at Juan said it was a ball. What? Everybody knows that was a ball that he threw why did he have to say it?
“Ball four take first.” The umpire said. Hey! I thought. “They really are given away things here! When do they give away the bats, chickens, and flies?”