Thick Fog In Pacheco Pass (Charlie Caldwell Crime Series) by R.P. McCabe

Posted on Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chapter 3
BY 1952, MY FAMILY had been living in the town more than five years. The high school and elementary school defined the north-south limits of downtown with the high school located at the far north end of Main Street and the elementary school at the south.
Souza’s Market was the grocery store clearinghouse for fresh produce supplied by nearby farms and represented roughly the center of town. When the wind was right, the pungent odor of fresh cow shit and fermenting overripe fruits and vegetables amplified the source of the town’s commerce.
On an opposite corner from the market was the post office and next to that a small branch of Bank of America. On the other corner was a disagreeable looking baby blue two-story office building with a beauty salon on the bottom and the accounting office of Duke Matta above. Moving up one side of Main Street, you come to Mattos’ Hardware, Rodrigues’ Cleaners and Paulo Cotta’s clothing store where high school kids ordered their letter jackets and sweaters every fall for the past twenty-five years.
When Sal DeCosta’s father passed away and Sal took over the family mercantile, he built a movie theater next to Cotta’s. Called it the Westside Cinema. I saw my first Tarzan movie there with Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan. The Saturday matinee cost twenty-five cents. Didn’t matter it was a rerun of the 1932 episode, Tarzan the Ape Man. Sal DeCosta never paid to get first-run films. None of us could have afforded it if he had. On the other side of the theater was Viera’s Five & Dime, The Sweet Shop and Bambino’s Pool Hall. Mortimer’s Pharmacy was directly across the street on the corner.
The citizens of Divina, like so many other out of the way towns around America dominated by one ethnic group or another, harbor suspicion, fear and prejudice. Anyone not of their own ethnicity—a trait America seems doomed to preserve, bigotry and racism are alive and well nearly everywhere I go—becomes an outcast.
Beyond the pharmacy at the edge of town is DeMartino’s Filling Station where just about every boy of high school age works at one time or another in his life assuming, of course, he was Portuguese or Italian. The police station is located in a grimy little building behind the post office that was once a feed store.
West of Main Street there’s a small cluster of municipal buildings; City Hall, a city park with public swimming pool, public library, courthouse and fire department. A bit further along are the elite neighborhoods, such that they are. If your family didn’t own one of the huge dairies, farming operations or ranches in the area, this is where you would want to live. Few could actually afford that privilege. This is where Divina’s old money resides.
The spacious homes of those neighborhoods display the exotic essence of the places that inspired them: Portugal, the Azores Islands, Italy and perhaps even Spain, northwestern Mediterranean. Natural stone masonry facades grown over by large, leafy green ivy and shaded by giant oak trees, old enough to have provided a cool respite to the Indians who originally hunted and lived here.
Divina is inclined to the old ways. Cultural protocols prevail here. When the DeCosta family migrated from Italy in 1902, the Portuguese in the community welcomed them. Their European roots offering familiarity, a binding between them.
No such connection, however, was shared with the coarse speaking, hard drinking, Anglo Saxon southerners who began showing up in the labor camps around Bakersfield, California in the 1930’s.
My own grandparents were one consequence of the Great Depression, the devastating drought and dust storms that swept across the southern Great Plains until about 1940. The white trash dust-bowlers had little in common with the established European settlers of Divina, who by then claimed rights of community dominance dating back to the mid 1800’s.
Took moving away for me to learn being a minority is largely dictated by where you live in America. In the south, blacks are the minority. In Colorado, Democrats. In Divina, California, Okies & Arkies were white trash. And the majority of people living there made damn sure they didn’t forget it.
Like I said, my family was one of those itinerant farm-laboring families who found their way to Divina by the early 1950’s.
The Portuguese and Italian majority who came to dominate the small town didn’t welcome us. My parents and a few other farm laborers, for reasons that remain a mystery to me, decided to settle here. They found places to live in rundown neighborhoods of tiny houses on the east side of town, virtually buttressing the railroad tracks. Along with the trembling clatter of steam locomotives, we all learned to accept the strong stench of cow shit as normal.
My parents and other poor whites became the labor class supporting agricultural endeavor, the exact inverse of other small towns along California’s border with Mexico. Mexican “Braceros” in great numbers dominated the agricultural fieldwork around Salinas, but they hadn’t yet moved to the San Joaquin Valley.
When I left in 1962, families like mine were still picking the fruits and vegetables, chopping weeds in the fields and cleaning the homes of the wealthy. White Trash as we were called, no matter how hard working, would never become any meaningful class component of Divina, but we’d remain indispensable for doing the menial labor the upper crust needed performed.

Thick Fog in Pacheco Pass
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Genre – Mystery-Thriller Crime Series 
Rating – R
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