Authors: Julia Alvarez
for the children
para los niños
You are the ones we have been waiting for
Ustedes son a quienes esperábamos
¿A dónde irá veloz y fatigada
La golondrina que de aquí se va?
¡O! si en el viento se hallará extraviada
Buscando abrigo y no lo encontrará.
Where are you going, swift and weary Swallow, why are you leaving here? Oh, what if you lose your way in the wind Looking for a home you will never find?
—Narciso Serradel Sevilla (1843-1910)
Tyler looks out the window of his bedroom and can't believe what he is seeing.
He rubs his eyes. Still there! Some strange people are coming out of the trailer where the hired help usually stays. They have brown skin and black hair, and although they don't wear feathers or carry tomahawks, they sure look like the American Indians in his history textbook last year in fifth grade.
Tyler rushes out of his room and down the stairs. In the den his father is doing his physical therapy exercises with Mom's help. The TV is turned on; Oprah is interviewing
a lady who has come back from having died and is describing how nice it is on the other side. “Dad,” Tyler gasps. “Mom!”
“What is it? What is it?” Mom's hand is at her heart, as if it might tear out of her chest and fly away.
“There's some Indians trespassing! They just came out of the trailer!”
Dad is scrambling up from the chair, where he has been lifting a weight Mom has strapped to his right leg. He lets himself fall back down and turns the TV to mute with the remote control. “ ‘Sokay, boy, quiet down,” he says. “You want to kill your mom with a heart attack?”
Before this summer, this might have been a joke to smile at. But not anymore. Mid- June, just as school was letting out, Gramps died of a heart attack while working in his garden. Then, a few weeks later, Dad almost died in a farm accident. Two men down and Tyler's older brother, Ben, leaving for college this fall. “You do the math,” his mom says whenever the topic comes up of how they can continue farming. Tyler has started thinking that maybe their farm is jinxed. How many bad things need to happen before a farm can be certified as a bad- luck farm?
“But shouldn't we call the police? They're trespassing!” Tyler knows his dad keeps his land posted, which means putting up signs telling people not to come on his property without permission. It's mostly to keep out hunters, who might mistakenly shoot a cow or, even worse, a person.
“They're not exactly trespassing,” his mom explains, and
then she glances over at Dad, a look that means, You ex-plain it, honey.
“Son,” his dad begins, “while you were away … “
In the middle of the summer, Tyler was sent away for a visit to his uncle and aunt in Boston. His mom was worried about him.
“He's just not himself,” Tyler overheard Mom tell her sister, Roxanne, on the phone. “Very mopey He keeps having nightmares … “ Tyler groaned. Nothing like having his feelings plastered out there for everyone to look at.
Of course Tyler was having nightmares! So many bad things had happened before the summer had even gotten started.
First, Gramps dying would have been bad enough. Then, Dad's horrible accident. Tyler actually saw it happen. After-ward, he couldn't stop playing the moment over and over in his head: the tractor climbing the hill, then doing this kind of weird backflip and pinning Dad underneath. Tyler would wake up screaming for help.
That day, Tyler rushed into the house and dialed 911. Otherwise, the paramedics said, his father would have died. Or maybe Dad would have been brought back to life to be on
talking about the soft music and the bright lights.
It was amazing that Dad was still alive, even if it looked like his right arm would be forever useless and he'd always
walk with a limp. His face was often in a grimace from the pain he felt.
But the very worst part was after Dad got home and Tyler's parents seriously began to discuss selling the farm. Mostly, it was his mom. His dad hung his head like he knew she was right but he just couldn't bear to do the math one more time himself. “Okay, okay,” he finally said, giving up.
That was when Tyler lost it. “You can't sell it! You just can't!”
He had grown up on this farm, as had his dad before him, and Gramps and his father and grandfather before that. If they left their home behind, it'd be like the Trail of Tears Tyler learned about in history class last year. How the Cherokee Indians had been forced from their land to become migrants and march a thousand miles to the frontier. So many of them had died.
“Tiger, honey, remember our talk,” Mom reminded him pleasantly enough in front of Dad. Tiger is what his mom calls him when she is buttering him up. Before his father came home from the hospital, his right leg and arm still in a cast, Mom sat Tyler and his older brother and sister down for a talk. She explained that they must all do their part to help Dad in his recovery. No added worries (looking over at Ben, eighteen going on I'm-old-enough-to-do-what-I-want). No scenes (looking over at Sara, fifteen with a boyfriend, Jake, and “Saturday night fever” seven nights a week, as his dad often joked, back when he used to joke). No commotion (looking over at Tyler, who as the youngest sometimes had
to make a commotion just to be heard). They must all keep Dad's spirits up this summer.
But Tyler knew for a fact that selling the farm would kill his dad. It would kill Tyler!
After his outburst, Mom had another little talk, this time just with Tyler. She sat him down at the kitchen table again as if the whole thing were a math problem that Tyler was having trouble with. Dairy farms were struggling. Hired help was hard to find. And if you did find someone like Corey, he only wanted to work eight hours a day, five days a week. Problem was cows needed milking twice a day every day, and the milkings had to be spaced at least eight to ten hours apart. Tyler's brother, Ben, was helping out now. But he was off to college at the end of the summer, and not in-terested in farming once he graduated. Meanwhile, his sister, Sara, claimed she was allergic to most everything on the farm, especially her chores.
“What about me?” Tyler piped up. Why was he always being overlooked, just because he was the youngest? “I can do the milking. I know how to drive the tractor.”
Mom reached over and pushed Tyler's hair back from his eyes. What a time to think about making him look presentable! “Tiger, I know you're a hardworking little man. But milking two hundred cows is impossible even for a big man.” Her smile was tender. “Besides, you've got to go to school.”
“But I could stay home and work. Just for this year,” Tyler added. He was feeling desperate. Sure, he'd miss his friends and some things about school, like when they studied
Native American tribes or the universe or Spanish, which a new teacher was teaching them twice a week.
But Mom was already shaking her head. Tyler should have guessed. Never in a million years would she let him stay home. School was always what she called a priority. “Even if you end up farming, you never know what might happen…” Mom didn't have to go on with the sentence they could both now finish: look at what happened to your father.
“Tiger, honey, I know it's not easy. But sometimes in life … “
Any sentence Mom started with the words
sometimes in life
was not going to end in good news. “ … we have to ac-cept things that we can't change.” She looked thoughtful, even a little sad. “But what we do with what we get makes us who we are.” It sounded like a riddle. Like something Rev-erend Hollister might say in a sermon.