Cinderella in Overalls - By Carol Grace
The sun was merciless in the Central Valley of California in July. Even Catherine Logan, who had spent every summer of her twenty-six years there, felt the dry heat sear through her cotton shirt and shorts. She walked quickly to a seat in the shade under a temporary awning the auctioneers had set up. There were familiar faces in the crowd, but she avoided them as they’d avoided her out of embarrassment or pity for the past six months. It didn’t matter.
She would never be able to look them in the eye again. Her parents had sold out. The drought drove people to desperate measures. There were divorces; there had even been a suicide in the next county. Her parents had only sold out. And they weren’t the only ones.
For the past three years Catherine had watched the fields she worked being baked dry and saw the worry lines etched in her father’s face as he borrowed more and sunk deeper into debt. When the foreclosure notice came, she went to the bank herself, pleading with them to extend the loan, to give them a chance, one year, one growing season to turn the farm around. But the answer had been no.
She swiveled around on the plastic seat of her folding chair. There he was leaning against the barn, conspicuous in a pinstriped suit. The man who had turned her down, old Cyrus Grant, loosened his tie and met her eyes with discomfort.
She turned around abruptly, unable to conceal her anger with him and his bank. It was his decision that had forced her off the land that had been in her family for three generations.
A few minutes later the pharmacist’s son and successor, Donny, slid into the seat next to hers. She felt his eyes on her, but she was determined not to let it bother her. If there was anything worse than being ignored, it was being pitied.
“Catherine,” he said, mopping his round face with a handkerchief, “why did you come? It’s just going to hurt more to see the old place broken up and sold off.”
She glanced briefly at his red face, the blue eyes round and curious. “The hurt’s gone, Don,” she assured him coolly. Replaced by resentment and shame, she thought, the shame of failure. The local girl who had “gone on” and earned a degree couldn’t save her parents’ farm.
“I had to come today,” she continued, “to see it for the last time. My roots are here. Were here.” She looked out across the dry fields, where stalks of wheat withered in the shimmering heat.
“I just thought it would be easier not to face everybody again.”
“I’m not interested in the easy way,” she said, her dark eyes blazing. “If I were, I wouldn’t have gone into farming.”
He nodded and glanced away. Catherine noticed it was that way with everyone these days. Either they stared or they looked away.
“Looks like a good crowd, though. With what the land brought...” He paused uneasily. “Your folks’ll be able to retire.”
Catherine didn’t tell him that they’d already retired, had bought a duplex in Sacramento six miles from her sister and her children. He must realize that as tired and discouraged as her parents were, they didn’t want to retire. Or did they? Had it been relief or regret on their faces the day they had signed the papers?
The auctioneer stepped up to a makeshift podium, adjusted the microphone and began his familiar spiel. The land had already been sold to a developer. Catherine didn’t dare look in the direction of the white frame house.
“The livestock brought a fair price,” Donny noted, “over in Fresno the other day.”
Catherine nodded. The last thing she needed was to think about the calves she had helped bring into the world, the pigs she had named and fed being sold off at the county fairgrounds. It was bad enough to hear the auctioneer describe the combine and the bailer and to hear voices behind her offer half what they were worth. Were the bankers disappointed? Probably not. For them it was just another foreclosure, just another auction, just another family driven off the farm.
She’d never forget Mr. Grant’s flat voice, dry as the land itself, as he’d explained why he couldn’t lend them any more money. She could still taste the humiliation as he’d explained it to her as if she were a child instead of an adult with a degree from the best university in the state.
She wiped the perspiration from her forehead