Sunday mornings on the dairy were always an adventure for me as a teen. Sundays were the day my uncles would take off to be with their families — which meant one thing. I would be feeding calves and cows on this day.
It was more a rite of passage for the oldest grandson in a large Portuguese farming family. I’d spend all week being yelled about by four different bosses, about how I wasn’t doing this or that right. They’d all have an opinion on how something should be cut, dug, cleaned, fed, planted. The lists of “this is how to do it” were endless. But I had one card in the hole that they all knew I loved to play.
The ace of spades in this case – my Avo Manuel Teicheira (Avo is Portuguese for grandfather). If you stand four Portagees in front of a hole, and tell them it needs filling – you’ll get four different answers for how it should be done. Use the backhoe. Use the loader. Find a shovel. Ask Manuel Teicheira what would be the best way to fill the hole, his answer would undoubtedly be “put dirt in it”.
I was 16 when I first officially moved in with my grandparents Manuel and Ida. Part of a “whip him into shape” program implemented by my dad. I’d become a bit of behavior problem around the house. The decision to ship me out to the dairy to live with my Avo made about as much sense as sending Charlie Sheen to live with Mick Jagger. We were two peas in a pod — we both loved pudding, teasing people, and driving around to no particular place for no apparent reason.
The kegger party
I specifically remember my dad bringing me a large bag of my clothes on a Sunday morning. I was driving the loader in the rain, as I filled up the feed truck. “Well, good luck to you out here” my dad said in his quick quipped Richard Teicheira manner. It was in fact the ramifications of him returning home the night before, only to find a full blown kegger party happening at his house. A miscalculation as to the date and time of his return, led to this most unfortunate of situation for myself.
The highlight of that party foul was watching my father boot a house full of seniors out of my sophomore home. It was supposed to be my shining moment. The night I earned my big boy party stripes. Instead it ended with my dad standing at the front door, personally addressing each partygoer as they left. At the time my old man was the MHS Athletic Booster Club President and this party was loaded with older MHS athletes corrupting his innocent angelic son. So as one of the final party goers attempted to leave with his jacket over his head. It was pulled down with a sarcastic “goodnight Mario!”
”Oh god no!” I thought. It was varsity basketball team captain Mario Gonzales.
I finished feeding cows, and like a hobo in blue coveralls, me and my bag of clothes entered my grandparents kitchen. “Ohhh sh**” was all my Avo said. He had a wonderful way of cutting through the bull**** and formality of long drawn out discussions. He laid down the ground rules with a few words. The main rule – and the only rule: “If you’re gonna live out here, you’re gonna work.and I don’t care how much you wanna go out and party, or what time you want to come home. but come morning, you will get out of bed and work”. Seemed fair enough to me — especially that whole “party” and “come home at any time” portion. It was a handshake deal and closed with a breakfast “Fonseca”. My grandfather was close friends with farmer Albert Fonseca. He’d come home from the Fonseca ranch with his pick up bed full of onions, tomatoes, cabbage, pumpkin – pretty much whatever the Fonsecas had in season. Heat some oil, crack some eggs, throw it in a pan, and you were eating a “Fonseca.” And that was my first Sunday with Manuel.
Abused the no curfew rule
I abused the “no curfew” rule early and often and in turn, he’d make sure to be standing over my bed at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning. My grandmother would often try to intervene – “Manuel let him sleep a little longer.” He’d have none of that nonsense – “Those cows didn’t go out and party all night, and they aren’t gonna feed themselves”. For those not familiar with the dairy business, cows are milked and fed twice a day – 365-days-a-year. Or as the tee shirt he loved to wear during my childhood said “Dairymen do it twice a day – the only way!” Years later I found out what a double entendre was, and respected that shirt even more.
I realized quickly, that as much as I enjoyed the unencumbered freedom, of a Sunday on the dairy without my dad and uncles he enjoyed it just as much. Though he was indeed the head honcho out here, he was in his 70s, and was known for making a “Manuel Mess”. Taking the loader out to the ditch to scrape out weeds, only to end up stuck inside the ditch. Digging a hole for no apparent reason, only to bust a water line, or his classic “Hey, the Fire Department may be on the way – it wasn’t me”, as a half acre road line of weeds burned uncontrollably.
So I learned at an early age, that if you’re gonna dance all night – don’t complain about having sore feet in the morning. The “sore feet” would only be half the problem most days. Because Avo had no problem letting me sleep in until 7, or even 8 a.m. at times. Then he’d enter my bedroom and say “Wake up, I’m heading to a Festa in Rio Vista, and by the way, the loader is stuck in the back of the ranch”— a Manuel Mess that would now add an extra few hours to my morning. Ever try pulling out a stuck tractor with another tractor? And doing it alone?!
Feeding cows took a few hours, and happened at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., allowing for midday festivities to take place for the both of us but most mornings we made sure to share Fonsecas before heading our separate ways for the afternoon. I’d always rush through meals back then, wanting to get to the next social gathering as soon as possible. He hit me with a piece of knowledge I still carry to this day:
“Are the drinks free where you’re headed? (No) Then why are you in such a hurry?”
The sneak and sip routine
The kitchen had a cupboard that ran full and deep with bottles of booze. Brandy was the customary holiday gift we received from most companies the dairy dealt with. Mix in various Festa purchases, Friday night dice games at Frank Furtado’s Pool Hall – or just general Portuguese fun, and the kitchen was loaded with hooch. It wasn’t long before the sneak and sip routine became the norm for us both. Never with the intent of getting snockered, but enough that as we’d pass each other during various points of the day – we’d both have a smile on our faces.
My city friends soon began to enjoy the fun of hanging out at the dairy on Sundays. Many didn’t have a choice. The no curfew policy I had, made me the ideal friend. “Mom, I’m staying at Chris’s house tonight” became the norm.
Camp Teicheira started out with a bang. Having a city friend on the farm, wanting to learn the work routine, and actually help – was awesome! Each and every one learning the hard way, that you actually can pee on an electric fence – just as long as you don’t hold the stream directly on it...farm boy fun, at city boy expense.
But it didn’t last long.
One specific 6 a.m., as Rick Asbell, Vince Romito, and myself slept off the night – Manuel made his way in the room. “Time to feed cows”...I jumped into my coveralls and shook their bed to wake them for the morn – but Manuel intervened. “I didn’t say they have to feed cows”. They both smiled and buried their heads under the covers. ”You guys suck!” I moaned .and headed out to begin my Sunday.
Two hours later I entered the kitchen to these 3 laughing it up like they were college buddies. Rick had been impressing my Avo with how much milk he could drink in one sitting. Asbell was always blown away at the aspect of unlimited milk from the barn. He’d go through 2 gallons of milk for breakfast. I also noticed the smiles on their faces — the type of smile induced by the booze cupboard. “You guys suck” came out of my mouth again. They cackled like hyenas and soon we were on our separate ways. Avo to his various Festa, and us to the river, or wherever the chicks were that day but as per the routine, we’d both end up back at the dairy around 6 p.m. Rinse and Repeat.
This went on throughout my high school years...and soon were no longer restricted to just Sunday mornings. Many Friday and Saturday nights began and ended in that kitchen. Stumbling through the door late at night, and finding that Avo had also just arrived home. It didn’t take much to keep the party going at that point. “Hey Manuel, you wanna make us some steaks?” Vince would ask.
And soon the cupboard was open, and the steaks were frying... interrupted by a none too thrilled grandma - “Manuel! Boys! Get to bed!” In reality, she was just happy that we were home safe. We’d slink off to bed, as she’d clean up the kitchen.
And then 6 a.m. would arrive. Rinse and Repeat.
Whip into shape
strategy goes astray
Soon word got to the off sight warden (My dad), that his “whip him into shape” program had gone astray. He still wasn’t willing to transfer me back to his home prison but informed my on sight warden (grandma), that the new “Lights Out” would be midnight...
That did little or nothing to put a damper on my fun. It simply meant that I’d walk in the house at 11:45, and sneak out the back door at 12:15. On many occasions just coming home at 5:45, and heading directly to the loader to feed cows then straggling into the kitchen for a Fonseca, with nobody the wiser.
It was on one of those kinds of nights that it almost blew up in my face. Vince Romito and I had pulled the old “walk in – sneak out” but I had made a fatal mistake, I locked the back door on my way out. This was the kiss of death. It was a country home, and I knew there was one door still unlocked, but that door was directly outside my grandparents ‘bedroom, and that door was always left open. We were doomed.
We headed back to the orchard party we’d left earlier – but it was long done. We had nowhere to go – and hours till’ morn. We parked the car in the middle of the lane that leads into the dairy, and went to sleep. We were both asleep and freezing, when a knock came at my window. It was my Avo. I felt terrible, he must’ve taken notice that we weren’t in bed, and went searching. I started to muster a story, and noticed few things: His vehicle wasn’t faced coming out from the dairy, but coming in from the road...and It wasn’t his vehicle, but the van of his Festa buddy Frank Furtado – and Frank was sitting in the driver’s seat...both had the look of men that had visited the “kitchen cupboard”...It was 4:30 a.m., and we had been out partied by a 72-year-old man.
“What are you guys doing?” he asked. I explained our predicament.”Follow me boys.”
We got on his hip pocket...and as he burst into the house, we slid in right behind him – using him as a human shield; we snuck by grandma’s door and into bed undetected.
We’d made it. He’d taken one for the team. The greatest Avo in the history of the world. “I can’t believe how lucky I am” I thought...
Get out of bed
& feed the cows
Until exactly an hour and a half later the lights in my room came on - “get out of bed and feed cows!”...You gotta be kidding me?!. He was not. I looked at Vince, and watched him smile and pull the covers over his head. They both laughed as I put on my coveralls. It was two hours later that I reentered the kitchen to them both sitting in the kitchen. My grandmother was awake, and I was still unsure our cunning maneuver had fooled her.
“Oh boy, you should’ve seen your Avo last night...He comes in so late – stinkin’ like booze” she complained. She hadn’t a clue what had transpired the night before.
Avo and Vince just listened and smiled – both had bellies full of Fonsecas. And shortly so did I.
He never said a word.
My Avo has been gone for ten years now. Not a day a goes by that he doesn’t pop into my head. I’d give anything to be able to sit down with him, and nurse a hangover with a Fonseca one last time.