فصل 01

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فصل 01

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CHAPTER ONE

The New Americans

The Salinas Valley is long and narrow, and it lies between two mountain ranges in Northern California. The Salinas River twists and turns through the center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay.

I remember the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley. They were light and sunny and lovely, and they invited you to climb into their warm foothills. The Santa Lucias stood up darkly against the sky to the west, and they were unfriendly and dangerous. I always loved the East and feared the West, but I don’t know why. Maybe it was because the morning came over the peaks of the Gabilans, and the night approached from the Santa Lucias.

The floor of the Salinas Valley was wide and flat. After a rainy winter, the valley was carpeted with spring flowers of all colors: bright blue and white, burning orange, red, and mustard yellow. In the shade of the oak trees, green plants grew and gave a good smell. In June the grasses on the hills turned gold and yellow and red. The soil in the valley was deep and rich, but in the foothills it was poor and thin.

There were good years, when the rainfall was plentiful, but there were also very bad years. The water came in a thirty-year cycle. There would be five or six wet, wonderful years followed by six or seven good years. Then came the dry years when the earth dried and cracked and the streams stopped. The grass was scarce, the cattle grew thin, and a hot, dry wind blew dust down the valley. Then the farmers and the ranchers hated the Salinas Valley. Some families would sell out for nearly nothing and move away. During the dry years, the people forgot about the rich years, and when the wet years returned, they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.

The first people who lived in the Salinas Valley were the Indians. They lived on insects, nuts, and shellfish. Then came the soldiers and priests sent by the King of Spain. They explored the land greedily for gold and souls. They made maps and named everything they saw. Buena Vista was a beautiful view, Laguna Seca was a dry lake, and Salinas was white like salt.

After that came the Americans, even greedier because there were more of them. They occupied the valley land first, then moved into the foothills. Soon there were wooden farmhouses and growing families wherever there was water. The farmers planted square fields of corn and wheat, and long lines of trees to protect the topsoil from the wind. The trails between the farms became roads. Stores and workshops opened along the roads, and little towns grew up around them -Bradley, King City, Greenfield.

And this is the way the Salinas Valley was when my grandfather brought his wife and settled in the foothills east of King City. I must depend on stories, old photographs, and memories to tell you the story of the Hamiltons.

Young Samuel Hamilton and his wife came from the north of Ireland in around 1870. He was the son of small farmers, not rich but not poor. They were well-educated and well-read, and they were related to great families as well as humble ones.

I do not know why Samuel left that green land. He was not a political man, so he surely was not a rebel. He was perfectly honest, so it was not the police. In my family, they whispered that he loved a woman who was not his wife.

Samuel was good-looking and charming, with very blue eyes. He came to the Salinas Valley with his hard, little Irish wife, Liza, who was as humorless as a chicken. She had a strict moral code, and she disapproved of everything that was pleasant. We never knew how Samuel met and married her. He was a man full of love, but his wife never showed her feelings.

When they arrived in the Salinas Valley, all the good land was taken, so they settled on the poor land in the hills to the east of King City. Samuel took one piece of land for himself, one for his wife, and another for their unborn child. Over the years nine children were born, four boys and five girls, and more land was added to the ranch each time. If the land had been good, the Hamiltons would have been rich. But the soil was poor and there was no water, so their cattle stayed thin even in good years.

Samuel was full of energy and invention. He built a house and a bam and a blacksmith shop. He was a good carpenter and clever with his hands, but he never made any money. He built a machine for digging wells, and he found water on other men’s land but not on his. And he invented another machine that harvested other farmers’ wheat. Other men took Samuel’s ideas and made money from them, but he never did.

Men came from all over the valley to his blacksmith shop. He repaired their tools and replaced their horseshoes, but he was not a businessman. His customers promised to pay him after the harvest, then after Christmas. Then they forgot and he did not know how to remind them.

Men also came to the blacksmith shop just to visit Samuel. They loved to listen to his rich, deep voice as he talked about the world outside the Salinas Valley. He had a gift for telling stories, and there were always three or four men standing around him as he hammered. They brought whiskey, too, and drank it away from Mrs. Hamilton’s watchful eye.

Samuel was a good listener and people trusted him with their secrets. He had some knowledge of medicine as well, and a gentle couch. He delivered all of his own children, and neighbors often called him to help with a difficult birth. There were not many doctors at that time.

Soon all the land was settled in the foothills around the Salinas Valley; it was given by the government to people who agreed to build on it. Many settlers took more land than they needed because in Europe land meant wealth. In California, though, some men owned large farms but they were still poor.

Although many people arrived penniless in the Salinas Valley, others arrived with money to start a new life. They bought the best land in the valley, built fine houses, and planted wheat. Adam Trask was one of these men.

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