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updated: 10/13/2010 1:37 PM

Another side to truck farming in Arlington Heights

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I've always thought that it is important to say what you really mean because when you hear yourself saying something out loud, you can make corrections.

You can examine what you have said to see if it is what you truly believe. If you keep your views locked up in your head, then you never get a chance to find yourself out. That is the unexamined life.

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Writing my column is a similar exercise. In this case, it is readers who supply the corrective force.

Out of their experiences they can add to my theme and create a more rounded picture of what happened when. They don't change the truth of what I wrote, but they do add a valuable dimension.

After I wrote about Arlington's increased openness, Phyllis Oehlerking added her perceptions to mine about the situation of the migrant workers who picked fruit and vegetables in the farms around Arlington Heights when we first moved here. Her husband was a truck farmer.

She described a different view of the migrant life than the one I observed when I used to pick up migrant children on summer mornings for summer school at St. James Church. I saw families who lived in chicken coops without electricity.

"I don't know who told you that the migrants did the heavy work and there was no thought of them as equal citizens, she wrote me, indicating that those witnesses spoke for themselves and not everyone else.

On the Oehlerking farm the two migrant families lived in a barn "as fixed up as our house. They had divided rooms, a nice kitchen and sitting area, wallpaper or painted walls and curtains.

Truck farming was intensive work. "My in-laws and husband worked beside the help.

When the crops came in from the field, Oehlerking herself helped with the bagging and lifting into trucks.

The point that Oehlerking emphasized was that, as she wrote, "We were friends with them. We even celebrated our birthdays together, and they even brought us a birthday cake sometimes to surprise us. They loved us.

The migrant families came each spring and fall. "In the meantime we corresponded and when they returned they were loaded down with gifts for us. Pretty dolls for our daughters, belts or toys for our sons, hand-tooled shoes and bag for me, and ties and Mexican whiskey for my husband and father-in-law, and lovely things for my mother-in-law.

What Oehlerking stressed in her description of the relationship between her family and the families that came twice a year from Texas was that, "Our respect for each other was mutual, not unequal. That's an important part of the story.

Parenthetically, Oehlerking wrote that her husband Arnie worked part-time for the Daily Herald for 38 years, and her son-in-law Mike Lynk is the nice boy who lived next door when we moved to Dunton Avenue 50 years ago. He is now the father of four and the grandfather of 11.

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