WHEN THE TRUCK had gone, loaded with implements, with heavy tools,
with beds and springs, with every movable thing that might be sold,
Tom hung around the place. He mooned into the barn shed, into the
empty stalls, and he walked into the implement lean to and kicked the
refuse that was left, turned a broken mower tooth with his foot. He
visited places he remembered- the red bank where the swallows
nested, the willow tree over the pig pen. Two shoats grunted and
squirmed at him through the fence, black pigs, sunning and
comfortable. And then his pilgrimage was over, and he went to sit on
the doorstep where the shade was lately fallen. Behind him Ma moved
about in the kitchen, washing children's clothes in a bucket; and
her strong freckled arms dripped soap suds from the elbows. She stopped
her rubbing when he sat down. She looked at him a long time, and at
the back of his head when he turned and stared out at the hot
sunlight. And then she went back to her rubbing.
She said, "Tom, I hope things is all right in California."
He turned and looked at her. "What makes you think they ain't?" he
"Well- nothing. Seems too nice, kinda. I seen the han'bills fellas
pass out, an' how much work they is, an' high wages an' all; an' I
seen in the paper how they want folks to come an' pick grapes an'
oranges an' peaches. That'd be nice work, Tom, pickin' peaches. Even
if they wouldn't let you eat none, you could maybe snitch a little
ratty one sometimes. An' it'd be nice under the trees, workin' in
the shade. I'm scared of stuff so nice. I ain't got faith. I'm
scared somepin ain't so nice about it."
Tom said, "Don't roust your faith bird-high an' you won't do no
crawlin' with the worms."
"I know that's right. That's Scripture, ain't it?"
"I guess so," said Tom. "I never could keep Scripture straight sence
I read a book name' The Winning of Barbara Worth."
Ma chuckled lightly and scrounged the clothes in and out of the
bucket. And she wrung out overalls and shirts, and the muscles of
her forearms corded out. "Your Pa's pa, he quoted Scripture all the
Page 67 , Grapes of Wrath, The - John Steinbeck
time. He got it all roiled up, too. It was the Dr. Miles' Almanac he
got mixed up. Used to read ever' word in that almanac out loudletters
from folks that couldn't sleep or had lame backs. An' later
he'd give them people for a lesson, an' he'd say, 'That's a par'ble
from Scripture.' Your Pa an' Uncle John troubled 'im some about it
when they'd laugh." She piled wrung clothes like cord wood on the
table. "They say it's two thousan' miles where we're goin'. How far ya
think that is, Tom? I seen it on a map, big mountains like on a post
card, an' we're goin' right through 'em. How long ya s'pose it'll take
to go that far, Tommy?"
"I dunno," he said. "Two weeks, maybe ten days if we got luck. Look,
Ma, stop your worryin'. I'm a-gonna tell you somepin about bein' in
the pen. You can't go thinkin' when you're gonna be out. You'd go
nuts. You got to think about that day, an' then the nex' day, about
the ball game Sat'dy. That's what you got to do. Ol' timers does that.
A new young fella gets buttin' his head on the cell door. He's
thinkin' how long it's gonna be. Whyn't you do that? Jus' take ever'
"That's a good way," she said, and she filled up her bucket with hot
water from the stove, and she put in dirty clothes and began
punching them down into the soapy water. "Yes, that's a good way.
But I like to think how nice it's gonna be, maybe, in California.
Never cold. An' fruit ever'place, an' people just bein' in the
nicest places, little white houses in among the orange trees. I
wonder- that is, if we all get jobs an' all work- maybe we can get one
of them little white houses. An' the little fellas go out an' pick
oranges right off the tree. They ain't gonna be able to stand it,
they'll get to yellin' so."
Tom watched her working, and his eyes smiled. "It done you good jus'
thinkin' about it. I knowed a fella from California. He didn't talk
like us. You'd of knowed he come from some far-off place jus' the
way he talked. But he says they's too many folks lookin' for work
right there now. An' he says the folks that pick the fruit live in
dirty ol' camps an' don't hardly get enough to eat. He says wages is
low an' hard to get any."
A shadow crossed her face. "Oh, that ain't so," she said. "Your
father got a han'bill on yella paper, tellin' how they need folks to
work. They wouldn't go to that trouble if they wasn't plenty work.
Costs 'em good money to get them han'bills out. What'd they want ta
lie for, an' costin' 'em money to lie?"
Tom shook his head. "I don't know, Ma. It's kinda hard to think
why they done it. Maybe-" He looked out at the hot sun, shining on the
"Maybe it's nice, like you says. Where'd Grampa go? Where'd the
Ma was going out of the house, her arms loaded high with the
clothes. Tom moved aside to let her pass. "Preacher says he's gonna
walk aroun'. Grampa's asleep here in the house. He comes in here in
Page 68 , Grapes of Wrath, The - John Steinbeck
the day an' lays down sometimes." She walked to the line and began
to drape pale blue jeans and blue shirts and long gray underwear
over the wire.
Behind him Tom heard a shuffling step, and he turned to look in.
Grampa was emerging from the bedroom, and as in the morning, he
fumbled with the buttons of his fly. "I heerd talkin'," he said.
"Sons-a-bitches won't let a ol' fella sleep. When you bastards get dry
behin' the ears, you'll maybe learn to let a ol' fella sleep." His
furious fingers managed to flip open the only two buttons on his fly
that had been buttoned. And his hand forgot what it had been trying to
do. His hand reached in and contentedly scratched under the testicles.
Ma came in with wet hands, and her palms puckered and bloated from hot
water and soap.
"Thought you was sleepin'. Here, let me button you up." And though
he struggled, she held him and buttoned his underwear and his shirt
and his fly. "You go aroun' a sight," she said, and let him go.
And he spluttered angrily, "Fella's come to a nice- to a nicewhen
somebody buttons 'em. I want ta be let be to button my own
Ma said playfully, "They don't let people run aroun' with their
clothes unbutton' in California."
"They don't, hey! Well, I'll show 'em. They think they're gonna show
me how to act out there? Why, I'll go aroun' a-hangin' out if I
Ma said, "Seems like his language gets worse ever' year. Showin'
off, I guess."
The old man thrust out his bristly chin, and he regarded Ma with his
shrewd, mean, merry eyes. "Well, sir," he said, "we'll be a-startin'
'fore long now. An', by God, they's grapes out there, just a-hangin'
over inta the road. Know what I'm a-gonna do? I'm gonna pick me a wash
tub full a grapes, an' I'm gonna set in 'em, an' scrooge aroun', an'
let the juice run down my pants."
Tom laughed. "By God, if he lives to be two hundred you never will
get Grampa house broke," he said. "You're all set on goin', ain't you,
The old man pulled out a box and sat down heavily on it. "Yes, sir,"
he said. "An' goddamn near time, too. My brother went on out there
forty years ago. Never did hear nothin' about him. Sneaky
son-of-a-bitch, he was. Nobody loved him. Run off with a single-action
Colt of mine. If I ever run across him or his kids, if he got any
out in California, I'll ask 'em for that Colt. But if I know 'im,
an' he got any kids, he cuckoo'd 'em, an' somebody else is a-raisin'
'em. I sure will be glad to get out there. Got a feelin' it'll make
a new fella outa me. Go right to work in the fruit."
Ma nodded. "He means it, too," she said. "Worked right up to three
months ago, when he throwed his hip out the last time."
"Damn right," said Grampa.
Tom looked outward from his seat on the doorstep. "Here comes that
preacher, walkin' aroun' from the back side a the barn."
Page 69 , Grapes of Wrath, The - John Steinbeck
Ma said, "Curiousest grace I ever heerd, that he give this
mornin'. Wasn't hardly no grace at all. Jus' talkin', but the sound of
it was like a grace."
"He's a funny fella," said Tom. "Talks funny all the time. Seems
like he's talkin' to hisself, though. He ain't tryin' to put nothin'
"Watch the look in his eye," said Ma. "He looks baptized. Got that
look they call lookin' through. He sure looks baptized. An'
a-walkin' with his head down, a-starin' at nothin' on the groun'.
There is a man that's baptized." And she was silent, for Casy had
drawn near the door.
"You gonna get sun-shook, walkin' around like that," said Tom.
Casy said, "Well, yeah- maybe." He appealed to them all suddenly, to
Ma and Grampa and Tom. "I got to get goin' west. I got to go. I wonder
if I kin go along with you folks." And then he stood, embarrassed by
his own speech.
Ma looked to Tom to speak, because he was a man, but Tom did not
speak. She let him have the chance that was his right, and then she
said, "Why, we'd be proud to have you. 'Course I can't say right
now; Pa says all the men'll talk tonight and figger when we gonna
start. I guess maybe we better not say till all the men come. John an'
Pa an' Noah an' Tom an' Grampa an' Al an' Connie, they're gonna figger
soon's they get back. But if they's room I'm pretty sure we'll be
proud to have ya."
The preacher sighed. "I'll go anyways," he said. "Somepin's
happening. I went up an' I looked, an' the houses is all empty, an'
the lan' is empty, an' this whole country is empty. I can't stay
here no more. I got to go where the folks is goin'. I'll work in the
fiel's, an' maybe I'll be happy."
"An' you ain't gonna preach?" Tom asked.
"I ain't gonna preach."
"An' you ain't gonna baptize?" Ma asked.
"I ain't gonna baptize. I'm gonna work in the fiel's, in the green
fiel's, an' I'm gonna be near to folks. I ain't gonna try to teach 'em
nothin'. I'm gonna try to learn. Gonna learn why the folks walks in
the grass, gonna hear 'em talk, gonna hear 'em sing. Gonna listen to
kids eatin' mush. Gonna hear husban' an' wife a-poundin' the
mattress in the night. Gonna eat with 'em an' learn." His eyes were
wet and shining. "Gonna lay in the grass, open an' honest with anybody
that'll have me. Gonna cuss an' swear an' hear the poetry of folks
talkin'. All that's holy, all that's what I didn't understan'. All
them things is the good things."
The preacher sat humbly down on the chopping block beside the
door. "I wonder what they is for a fella so lonely."
Tom coughed delicately. "For a fella that don't preach no more-"
"Oh, I'm a talker!" said Casy. "No gettin' away from that. But I
ain't preachin'. Preachin' is tellin' folks stuff. I'm askin' 'em.
That ain't preachin', is it?"
Page 70 , Grapes of Wrath, The - John Steinbeck
"I don' know," said Tom. "Preachin's a kinda tone a voice, an'
preachin's a way a lookin' at things. Preachin's bein' good to folks
when they wanna kill ya for it. Las' Christmus in McAlester, Salvation
Army come an' done us good. Three solid hours a cornet music, an' we
set there. They was bein' nice to us. But if one of us tried to walk
out, we'd a-drawed solitary. That's preachin. Doin' good to a fella
that's down an' can't smack ya in the puss for it. No, you ain't no
preacher. But don't you blow no cornets aroun' here."
Ma threw some sticks into the stove. "I'll get you a bite now, but
it ain't much."
Grampa brought his box outside and sat on it and leaned against
the wall, and Tom and Casy leaned back against the house wall. And the
shadow of the afternoon moved out from the house.
In the late afternoon the truck came back, bumping and rattling
through the dust, and there was a layer of dust in the bed, and the
hood was covered with dust, and the headlights were obscured with a
red flour. The sun was setting when the truck came back, and the earth
was bloody in its setting light. Al sat bent over the wheel, proud and
serious and efficient, and Pa and Uncle John, as befitted the heads of
the clan, had the honor seats beside the driver. Standing in the truck
bed, holding onto the bars of the sides, rode the others,
twelve-year-old Ruthie and ten-year-old Winfield, grime-faced and
wild, their eyes tired but excited, their fingers and the edges of
their mouths black and sticky from licorice whips, whined out of their
father in town. Ruthie, dressed in a real dress of pink muslin that
came below her knees, was a little serious in her young-ladiness.
But Winfield was still a trifle of a snot-nose, a little of a