By Trudy Wischemann
The gingerbread woman reappeared when I opened some boxes of ornaments this weekend. I wanted to do a little lighthanded decorating, at least in my kitchen window, my hearth. I pulled back the tissue paper wrapped around her plump little body, saw who it was, and tenderly wrapped her back up, deciding against that trip down memory lane. Then I found the little wreath I’d hung to frame her years before, and my hands decided to go back after all, back to the time when she meant something real to me.
I’d written about this cheerful kitchen angel in this column, so I dug up the piece from the notebooks where I’d once kept them organized. What I discovered when I re-read it surprised me. In the first week of January 2011, I was still in love with my community, tender toward its complexities, not yet tortured by them. It felt good to remember.
The gingerbread woman reverie was triggered by community pain I was just coming to know thanks to my new job at R-N Market. A much loved woman, Inglatina Huerta, had been killed on her way to work around 5 a.m. on New Year’s Eve Day. She had a head-on collision with the son of one of Lindsay’s first families, who was coming home from a party. The story I heard is that he was not tested for alcohol. A Hispanic woman on her way to work, killed by a white boy on his way home from a party and not made to bear any consequences: it was an old story that could have happened anywhere. People suffered in silence. That’s how we do it here.
People had just begun to not suffer in silence two months before, when the revelations about high salaries Lindsay’s top employees were being paid splattered against the reality that a high percentage of the town’s residents have trouble paying their water bills. In mid-October 2010 about a thousand people met in the high school gymnasium for a highly-guarded city council meeting, purportedly to hear their complaints. At first I was reluctant to get involved, so I simply wrote about it. The first families fought back. In the columns before the gingerbread woman, I was just beginning to feel the effect of moving socially from one side of the community to the other, and still holding some middle ground.
That was before the housing fiascos were revealed, and before the effects of Rich Wilkinson’s appointment to city manager could be accumulated. It was before coming to the podium during public comment period at city council meetings and discovering we had to fight for the right to speak, before the plan to demolish the Citrus Exchange building, and before the lawsuits we filed to try to keep that from happening. Back then I was afraid of losing my sense of home in this town through the act of protesting. I didn’t know that loss would occur inside of me.
“It’s just love,” the gingerbread woman had told me about Inglatina’s accident and all the pain and silent discord that followed. “Grief is the price we pay for love,” I’d quoted a fellow Quaker then. It’s hard to remember. But as we, against the dark, deck our homes with the lights of life and share our wonder about a birth on the wrong side of the tracks in Bethlehem 2017+ years ago, maybe perspective will come. All this fighting is just about love for a little town.
Trudy Wischemann is a rural advocate who writes. You can send her your ornament stories c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.