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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.


Hail Caesar

I THINK IN THE LAST couple of articles this year I have worried out loud about the quantity and the quality of this year’s Christmas trees. It turns out that the trees showed up in great shape, nice and full. We were all lined up at the end of the truck along with a good buddy of mine who doesn’t work at Garden Works. He literally tracked the truck, parked in the employee parking lot and helped us unload the trees so he would get the first and the bestest tree that the North Pole had to offer. It’s become an annual tradition and we love it. He keeps the relationship warm all year long by including all of us in his passion for cooking and grilling. We all love it when we see him coming up our entrance ramp because we know we are in for a treat and some fun conversation.

My buddy especially likes to take care of Cesar with some spicy, easy to reheat or add-to meals. I’m guessing that most people who shop at our place know Cesar and it’s hard not to love him. There are quite a few people who like to slide Cesar a thoughtful tidbit to show their appreciation for something that he did for them. Cesar goes the extra mile for each and every person that he crosses paths with. That person might be a customer needing planting advice. They may be one of his coworkers that are on their way to picking up something heavy. I always love it when he gets on the other end of anything that I’m trying to move. Makes life so nice.

Cesar is not only one of the truly knowledgeable plant people with a friendly attitude, he’s also one of the strongest people I know and never seems to run out of energy. We gave Cesar a section of land where he can grow his vegetables and fruit trees. He loves to experiment with pruning methods and grafting varieties of plants that people have passed to him. I think he loves that piece of land and it is the highlight of his day. When we all leave to go home for the night he beelines it back there where he can relax and be with his plants. It’s more common than not to see him going back and forth from the soil bins to the garden well past 9 p.m. I can see the lights of his four wheeler on our security cameras. Sometimes he even waves to me as he passes by.

Over the years (24 I think) Cear and our Garden Works family have become more friends than coworkers. He is so much a part of our family that once when Mimi’s parents up in the Ozarks got iced in with trees and branches down like a Mississippi ice storm, he insisted on going up there with me to help dig them out. For nearly a week without electricity or water he stayed with us until we had them mobile again. That’s what friends do.

Cesar has so many invites from us and customers who love him to every holiday event that he sometimes doesn’t know which to turn down and which to indulge. He should probably run for mayor of Garden Works. With his caring, positive spirit we could all stand to learn a thing or two about a thing or two. When Cesar isn’t at work with us or nurturing his babies on his land, he will be fishing somewhere. He has the touch when it comes to fishing. When no one else seems to be having any luck, Cesar will be pulling them in steadily.

Any one who knows Cesar knows the real reason he gardens and fishes is so he can give away the fruits of his labor to any one less fortunate than him. I have seen more than once when a tiny Chinese lady who has to be about 153 years old who fishes at the spillway, one of Cesar’s favorite spots, never catches anything. Not for the lack of trying. Cesar has tried to teach her some fishing tricks but always gives her his entire catch so she doesn’t have much incentive to get better. I have even seen him clean the fish before he gives it away to any one that needs it just to make their day a little brighter.

The other gift that Cesar has given me and I’m sure many others is that he has somehow cracked the code on how to live his life as a genuinely satisfied person. It is so rare to meet anyone who gets to live their life being satisfied. I began to realize what it is about Cesar that makes him so that every one who gets to know him is drawn towards him. He loves living in Mississippi, working with people and plants. Loves it when its sunny. Loves it when it rains. He can be cheerful while we are working on a bitter cold day or a blazing hot one. I learned from him that it’s really your frame of mind that can enable you to free yourself from the constant, senseless never ending drive for more! More! More! As long as Cesar is able to send any extra money he has left over to his mother in Mexico and as long as he feels like he can make a difference in someone’s life he will have made himself happy.

CESAR GOES HOME every year after we sell the last Christmas tree for a couple months (as long as the money holds up) to visit his family. Every year he builds a little more on his house on a piece of land he owns in the village where he was born and where his mother still lives. He’s getting very close to finishing. I told him the other day that I hope he doesn’t go home one Christmas and not return. He said he would never do that, but I honestly shudder to think about living life without Cesar. He will get on the Greyhound at the end of this week for that long journey home. I think he plans to visit the Baja Peninsula this year on his way home.

I think most people are a little worn out from all the negative talk and the division that has unfortunately consumed us. I think people are worn out from the emptiness that the make believe world social media has created. It has gotten so empty that people have started really believing other people actually care what they drank with their breakfast or what their last feeling was. When someone like Cesar who is genuinely authentic speaks or acts, it catches people’s attention and they crave more. I’m afraid truly authentic has become so rare that people barely recognize it anymore.

To know a little history about Cesar is to make understanding where this true happiness comes from. When Cesar was very young, probably around nine or 10 years old, he came to America with his father to begin his life in agriculture. They started in California moving up and down the San Joaquin Valley as the seasons demanded. That is the fertile valley where a large percentage of America’s produce comes from. San Joaquin Valley is about to have some big water woes and the next generation of produce producers will most likely be spread out all over the country in random spots that are fortunate enough to have water, long growing seasons and migrant workers. The migrant workers will follow wherever the agriculture world prospers.

Cesar has told me some not-so-great stories about his early years picking strawberries for a few dollars a day and some days when the farm owner would think of a way to pay him nothing at all. There was no housing for the people working in the fields back in those days. There were many nights sleeping in a cardboard box alongside the other people who crossed over with hopes to make enough money to help their families back home survive. In those days, in the 70s, the Mexicans were treated like dogs, but this situation was apparently better than where they came from, so they kept on coming. Over the years conditions for those that we rely on to keep our produce aisles stuffed got better and at least some guidelines were set for those who are here legally.

Cesar and his dad’s path took them all the way to Oregon to work on the giant maple tree farms. Maple trees as in the ones we plant in our yards, not the maple syrup trees. It was in Oregon that Cesar’s luck changed. He said he was working for a very kind nurseryman who got the immigration man to come out to their nursery to give everyone working there an opportunity to get all their legal papers right then and there. He said the nursery owner started hollering for everyone to come running to line up at a table to fill out their paperwork. In a matter of a few hours Cesar had become an American citizen. He revisits the immigration office every few years to make sure that everything is updated and correct. In fact, we have to go to New Orleans this year for an update. We are all fighting over who gets to take him. He’s a lot of fun in New Orleans.

AFTER A FEW OTHER STATES, Washington for apples, Ohio at a big nursery, Louisiana for construction and on to Mississippi for a promise of a job in a chicken plant, we finally met. He was part of a crew from a company called Labor Finders. We could call Labor Finders whenever we needed help for a big project but didn’t need to hire anyone permanently. We could ask for one person or 20 people. We would give them an idea of what kind of work it would be, and they would choose people from their pool of laborers seeking employment. You can imagine we’ve seen some loo-loos from these motley crews that are sent to us and we’ve met some real gems. Cesar was one of the gems that we hope for. We knew right away and called Labor Finders to let them know he had a permanent job with us if he could produce his papers proving he was a legal worker. He had all the correct papers and our life together started.

Cesar spoke very little English and had a ponytail down to his waist. He was in his twenties and had lived a full and interesting life. If you remember there were very few Hispanics working in Mississippi in the 80s. It was very unusual to see a Hispanic person walking down Highway 51 in Ridgeland and some people didn’t quite know what to do with that. We were all learning and as progress usually does, we think nothing now when we are living and shopping and working alongside people who aren’t from around here.

Cesar was a great representative from a different world because with his great smile and friendly spirit people were put to ease when their paths crossed with his. Cesar knew it would be easier for him to immerse himself into our culture if he learned to speak English. He made up his mind to do it by reading the Bible and going to church to talk to as many people as he could about the same words he was studying in the Bible. It worked. Not only does Cesar speak great English but he also took it upon himself to learn as much about the plants and things that we sell by reading the tags on the plants and working on the landscape crew which is a great way to learn about plants.

We noticed that Cesar needed to be working on the retail crew where he could communicate with our customers instead of pushing a shovel all day. He is now one of our best salespeople and many customers won’t let anyone but him wait on them. They know that to let Cesar be the one who helps them is to be in for some great information and most likely some very good laughs.

All of us at Garden Works are grateful to have Cesar in our family. He takes care of each of us in his way. From having some sausage hot on the grill and some coffee ready to go when we show up in the mornings to somehow making unloading a truckload of pottery seem like a lot of fun, Cesar Guzman has made our lives better. I love all that about him. But when he helped me realize what satisfaction in life looks like he changed my life.

I HOPE EVERYONE has a person in their life that is their Cesar. One who can help you to keep your focus on the things in life that really matter and to protect yourself from the constant bombardment of negative vibes in today’s world if you don’t know where to look. Once in a while we get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right. Hail Cesar!

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