Log in

No account? Create an account
life at Hard Labor by Ammon Hennacy July-August 1949 the Catholic Worker - Catholic Worker odds & ends
January 4th, 2007
09:02 pm


Previous Entry Share Next Entry
life at Hard Labor by Ammon Hennacy July-August 1949 the Catholic Worker
LIFE AT HARD LABOR by Ammon Hennacy

This 80 acres of lettuce had not matured to full heads because of the unusually hot weather and the price being low it did not pay to harvest the crop. So the sheep man fenced off any open places along the line with a roll of fine-meshed three feet high wire, rolls of which were a part of his standard equipment which kept out the dogs and cayotes and kept the sheep inside. Among the several hundred were two black sheep. (There isn't that proportion of us radicals to the general population of sheep-like followers of authority.) During the day the sheep roamed over the field, always keeping together, but running wildly in one direction or another for what would seem like no reason whatever. Toward evening the shepherd brought them to the windbreak formed by the tall eucalyptus and the spreading chinaberry and pomegranite foliage near the cottage where I live. The Mexican who herded the sheep had a small tent nearby. He did not speak English, the Old Pioneer, who spoke Spanish, told me. So, in my limited manner, I spoke in Spanish to him of the weather, the sheep, the lettuce, and the few words that I knew, in addition to the morning and evening greetings. He replied in Spanish most of which I could understand, but I was at a loss as to the proper verbs to use to carry on the conversation.
In the old days if a sheep was missing no attention was paid unless three were gone, for at a dollar a head sheep were plentiful. Now, at around $15, each sheep was accounted for. Yesterday, as I was gathering some wood for my stove I noticed the Mexican cutting the hide from a sheep that had died. I asked him the reason but he did not know. So the shepherd is always warm in his tent with sheepskins. Herding is a 24-hour-a-day job with sleep to be taken when quiet prevails. The pay is around $140 a month with food, stove and cooking utensils furnished. Some ranchers complain that the herder would invite countless relatives for meals, but if the shepherd was a good one this overhead was taken---if not with a smile, for a good one is difficult to find.
Basques, who settled here many years ago, make the best herdsmen. When I lived in the shack of the Molokon across the road last winter the man who herded sheep was a married Mexican from Glendale. In the summer the sheep are taken to the mountains near Winslow and Flagstaff. A year ago I worked one night irrigating with a young man who had been cook for a sheepherder in Idaho. Each was paid $175 a month and food. He said it was work for an old man and not for a young fellow who wanted to be in town nights.
The lettuce fields to the north of my cottage had been planted earlier and a fair crop was taken from them. One field to the far south was spoiled by the saltmarsh caterpillar. Some say the DDT used previously had killed the bug that ate the caterpillar eggs, but the DDT did not harm the wooly caterpillar. The big company had imported Mexican Nationals and now did not have work for them every day, but according to contract was obliged to feed them. Of course no local day labor was hired, so this meant no lettuce or cauliflower work for me this season.
The Monday after Christmas my vegetarian friend, Joe Craigmyle, was to have his trial for refusing to register (for the draft). As the papers tend to hide or distort the witness which he was making against war we thought it would be a good idea if I picketed the Federal Building during his trial. It was drizzling rain that morning and the wind was blowing so that my two and a half foot by three foot sign took my two hands to keep it steady. It read: HONOR TO DRAFT RESISTER BEING SENTENCED TODAY, and on the other side: YOUR INCOME TAX FIGHTS THE POOR OF INDONESIA.
And underneath one arm I displayed the current issue of THE CATHOLIC WORKER. Passersby read the sign to one another and employees in the Federal building read it from the windows. Half a dozen people stopped and asked sympathetic questions, some of them youngsters who had never heard of the term Conscientious Objector. To them and to the reporters I gave copies of THE CATHOLIC WORKER. The young recruiting officer across the street came and read my sign and smiled good-naturedly and shook his head---not his fist. What a change from World War I when I was to be shot for refusing to register and agitating less openly than this. No one openly said a word against my action. One reporter, who said he was from outside the city, took several pictures. (He might have been an FBI man.) The young reporter from the evening paper took half a dozen pictures and questioned me sympathetically about the purpose of my picketing. That night the headline read: DRAFT RESISTER ADMITS GUILT AS FRIEND PICKETS COURT.
Note that Joe was called "resister" instead of "evader." Some of the facts of Joe's history and of mine were twisted in the report but the essential quotation as to our purpose was correct: "We are governed by the Sermon on the Mount which tells us to return good for evil. But courts and governments return evil for evil. That's why we would abolish them and let every man be governed by is own conscience."
The reporter must have understood our emphasis for in describing my work in the vegetable fields he coined the phrase "spiritual independence" as the reason for my vocation. The next day the same paper carried a picture of me and the sign.

The judge postponed the sentence until the following Monday and asked Joe to speak to the probation officer who was in court. This man asked him if he knew the man who was picketing outside and tried to argue with him that there was no such thing as a Christian anarchist. Joe replied: "Well Tolstoy and THE CATHOLIC WORKER and Hennacy says there is so it must be so." "Do you want probation?" the officer asked. Joe replied: "If I go to jail to witness against war and then accept probation or parole I would then be witnessing for my own comfort.Tell the judge to do his part. I have done mine."
My anarchist friend Bryant, home from Stanford for vacation in nearby Wickenburg, came down for the trial. He had registered and was granted CO status. He came out with Joe at noon and each carried the sign for a few steps as "token picketsl" We went to a cafeteria where Bryant stood treat. Then Joe drove us in his truck with his signs on it to Tempe where we were fortunate to find Father Rook home and had a pleasant visit with him.
On the next Monday I picketed the court again from 10am until noon. Joe's lawyer furnished free by the Progressive Party, came out and told me that Joe had received a sentence of one year, so my picketing had not hardened the judge. The paper again reported the import of my sign as it reported Joe's sentence. Thomas Acosta, the young Mexican who had refused to register, but who had been frightened into registering because he knew of no pacifist group, got six months. In 1944 the Federal judge in Santa Fe sentenced Jehovah's Witnesses to five years and bemoaned the fact that he could not hang a Mexican who had refused to register. I gave Joe a copy of Dorothy Day's ON PILGRIMAGE to read in prison.
Sawing wood: of all work this is the kind I prefer. Twenty-three years ago, when my wife and I returned from our four-year hike over the U.S. and with $100 down payment, bought ten acres near Waukesha, Wisconsin, the clearing and cutting of wood in the three and a half acres of woods on the place was a great pleasure. There, with our police dog stretched out on the Navajo rug in front of the large fire-place and our two small girls playing around, was the satisfaction and warmth from the sparkling logs that put any city heating plant to shame.
Most of the last week I have spent in cutting down trees and sawing wood into appropriate lengths for the Old Pioneer to burn in his kitchen stove. Since I fell and got an ugly gash in my arm last spring I have learned to be careful. A small piece of iron tied to one end of a rope and swung over the out-stretched limb attached to a block and tackle will pull the limb in the desired direction. Also, learning the proper place to notch a limb is a trick in itself. The Old Pioneer has taught me the value of a bright shovel and a sharp ax.
It was 24 degrees above zero at 8am the other day when I started sawing----the coldest in 12 years. Within an hour I had taken off my coat, sweater and shirt but my feet were cold. This is the kind of work to do in cooler weather. The pungent odor of wood, and the growing pile of cut wood provides satisfaction in itself. The work is not entirely brawn for some intelligence is needed to properly judge the grain in spliting chunks of wood. The Old Pioneer had cooked in camps and always provides a wholesome dinner.
While doing landscape work the other day for a neighbor I noticed that his small dog was being frightened by nearby children shooting blank cartridges and going through the antics of Wild West thrillers they had seen. My boss of that day had been a salesman most of his life and understood psychology. Instead of telling his boy and girl not to emphasize these shooting escapades he took them downtown and bought them each binoculars in a pretty leather case. It was not long until the other youngsters were waiting in line to look at distance Camelback mountain. When I had first worker for this man he asked what I charged per hour and I said that 70 cents would be o.k. but he insisted upon paying me 75 cents.
I have just sent in my tax report. I did not work Sundays this year. I worked for nineteen different farmers and made $1,569. With free rent and often free meals where I work and with simple vegetarian food, my actual living cost has been less that $200, I filled out my report accurately, not wishing to have my non-payment of taxes confused by any other issue. In the space listing "Amount of tax due" I wrote "Not interested."
The tax man told me six weeks ago that he would have me arrested for continual non-payment of taxes, but would wait until the last minute as he disliked causing trouble. I told him that he should do his duty, that there was no hard feeling on my part, for he had always treated me courteously. Now, with Truman calling for universal conscription and the U.S. winking at Dutch imperialism in Indonesia there is less reason than ever for paying an income tax. If I am arrested I am doing time for a good cause, for paraphrasing Thoreau, a prison is the only house in a war-mad world where a Christian pacifist can abide with honor. If I am left free I will continue to be a non-tax-payer, sell THE CATHOLIC WORKER and aid my daughters. I win, either way. from The Catholic Worker, July-August, 1949.

(Leave a comment)

Powered by LiveJournal.com