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The 150% Person
"What makes real people?"
Before I was seven years old I asked my father that question.
"What's the matter with you?" my dad asked in response. "What kind of notion is that—real people?"
"People that live in houses," I tried to explain. "People that stay together in towns."
I was expressing in a child's blunt language the basic questions of theology, philosophy, and psychology. What is human? How do people become what they are? And the original questions of sociology. Questions of social organization and disorganization. How and why do people form groups? How and why do they get disconnected? How can they get together?
Before the term became fashionable, my family was "homeless," as many migrant workers still are today. We traveled in a battered car throughout the western half of the United States, harvesting fruits and vegetables and peddling novelties from door to door. Most of my life we had a Model A Ford. The men in a camp would help each other cut down the chassis. Then they built a frame from rough lumber and covered it with canvas painted with oil for waterproofing. It was the original RV. I was born in the hop yards of Oregon, and with the seasons and years we followed the crops over routes later known as "migrant streams." We slept in the car, or a tent. Sometimes there were rows of one-room shacks provided by the growers, and sometimes strictly supervised government camps.
I pulled long bags of cotton down the thorny rows, carried boxes or "lugs" of fruit, climbed trees, and dug into the black earth with my hands. I stood in the rain to hold a piece of tin over the fire while Dad cooked mush and Mom cared for the little ones in the crowded tent. As the eldest child, I knew the most intimate details of family life and economy. I watched the children being born, usually attended only by Dad and me. My mother had eight besides me, and two of them died before my eyes. I saw my mother stand at the edge of a field with a dead baby in her arms. Someone reported ...