Creative Expressions: Don Tomas

Creative Expressions: Don Tomas: I have never understood why Don Tomas made such an impression on me, but he did.  I often think about his, his physical characteristics an...

Don Tomas

I have never understood why Don Tomas made such an impression on me, but he did.  I often think about his, his physical characteristics and wonder what happened to him.

Don Tomas

The dark, wrinkled hands and face caught my attention as I looked up to see who was handing me a piece of pan dulce (sweet bread), a marranito (gingerbread pig).  I was shy about taking the piece of bread from the old man.  In all my seven years of life, I had never seen a man who was so dark and so wrinkled.

I looked at my mom as she said, "Agarra el pan, mija.  Don Tomas lo trajo para ti.  (Take the bread, my daughter.  Mr. Tomas brought it for you.)"  I took the bread but I kept watching Don Tomas as he climbed on the truck that was taking about fifteen of us to the cotton fields.

I couldn't understand why this man was so dark and why his skin was so wrinkled.  He wore a straw cowboy hat, a beige shirt with a blue jean jacket and pants.  Then I noticed that he was wearing large knee pads.  I could hardly wait to get to the cotton fields so that I could ask Mom some questions.

I munched on my pan dulce as I stared at Don Tomas.  He smiled at me, which made his skin wrinkle even more.  I refused to smile at him because I wasn't quite sure if I could trust this old man.  I didn't understand why this viejito (little old man) was paying so much attention to me.  I began to munch on my marranito as we traveled to the cotton fields early in the morning.

We picked up our cotton bags and belongings was we arrived at the fields and began climbing off the truck.  I looked at the hundreds of rows of cotton and began to feel tired as I saw how long the rows were.  Mom gave me my hat so I could protect my face from the sun.

I felt silly in my cotton picking clothes.  Mom would make me wear a long-sleeved light pink shirt and red pants with socks and tennis shoes.  She always told me that I needed to protect my skin from the dangers of the hot sun.

I felt guilty for wishing that I were old enough so that I could be at school with my older sisters.  I did not want to be at the cotton fields with all the old cotton pickers.  They kept telling my mother how cute I looked and asking how young I was.  My mom would tell them that I was only seven years old, but she could not afford a baby sitter.  Even though I was seven, I knew I was going to have to help my mom pick cotton and I was not happy about it.  Cotton picking was hard work, even at the age of seven.

As I followed my mom to the opposite end of the field, away from the truck, I complained about how long the cotton rows were.  I told my mom that it would take us all day to pick just one row of cotton.  Mom said that we would pick two rows at a time really fast so that we could get a  lot of cotton into our sacks.  This meant more money to buy food on the weekend.

We finally reached the end of the rows of cotton and everyone began select which cotton rows they wanted to pick.  As I stood there contemplating the long, hot day, I could see that everyone was already beginning to pick.  I refused to wear the oversized gloves that Mom gave me because it was hard to pick cotton with them.  Mom gave me a stern look and told me to start picking.  The gloves were
supposed to protect my hands from the sun and the harsh cotton plant branches.

I looked at Don Tomas who miraculously stood beside me as he said "Com on Paulita, the day will be over before you know it."  I blushed a deep red when I realized that Don Tomas had heard me complaining to my mom.

Don Tomas dropped down to his knees and began to pick cotton very quickly.  I stood there at the end of our rows and watched his fast fingers picking cotton and dropping it into his cotton sack.  I had never seen anyone pick cotton so fast,  Mom forced me to look away as she called me to start picking.

I began to pick cotton and asked Mom, "Why does he kneel down to pick cotton?

"His back hurts," was my mom's response.

I felt sorry for Don Tomas Tomas because he seemed so old and so alone.

I continued picking slowly and asked Mom,  "Why is he by himself?  Doesn't he have a family?"

My patient mom answered, "I don't know, but he probably has a wife and older children.  Picking cotton is hard work and maybe he does not want to bring his wife and children."

I looked at Mom with my big, brown eyes and asked,  "Why don't they come help him; he's all by himself!  If they pick cotton together, they will take more money and he won't be alone."

Mom told me, "He chooses to  come by himself.  Now you start picking so that we can fill our cotton sacks!"

I sighed as I looked at our empty cotton sacks.  It wasn't long before I asked my next question.  "Why does the old man wear those things on his knees?"

Mom continued picking as she answered.  "Since he picks cotton his knees, the pads protect his knees from pain.  They are called rodilleras.  (kneepads)"

"Well, why can't he pick cotton standing up like the rest of us?"

"i told you that his back hurts.  He is an older gentleman and he has picked cotton for a long time.  His back hurts too much if he bends all day to pick cotton and the kneepads help."

"Will we have to wear kneepads if we pick cotton for a long time?"  I asked.

My mom answered, "Mijita, you will not be in the cotton fields all your life, if you get an education.  If I had an education, I could have an easier job.  Someday, if both of us go to school, we will be able to get good jobs and we will not have to worry about rodilleras."

By this time, Don Tomas was way ahead of us.  He moved quickly even though he picked cotton while on his knees.

I looked at my small burlap sack and told Mom that I had already filled it and wanted her to put my cotton into her cotton sack.  Mom told me to just leave the burlap sack beside her.

"But what will I do with the cotton that I pick?"  I asked her.

"Walk all the way up to where Don Tomas is and start picking there.  Just make motoncitos (little bunches) and I will pick them up as I pick and travel toward you."

This sounded different to me so I began walking away from my mom and closer to Don Tomas.  As I approached him, I stopped and stared.

Don Tomas winked at me and smiled as he said, "Come on little one; you and your mom will fill up a big cotton sack that will weigh many pounds before you know it."

I lowered my covered head and continued to pick.  Don Tomas was ahead of me in seconds.  I watched him as I removed my hat and wiped my forehead.  It was no later than 9:00 AM, but I could already tell that it was going to be a blistering hot day.  I continued to pick cotton and tried to imitate the quickness of Don Tomas.  Mom smiled and shook her head as she looked at me.  It was on my knees picking cotton like Don Tomas.

I lifted my head to look at my mom and told her, "My back hurts and kneeling makes me feel better."

Kneeling while I picked cotton made me feel grown up.  I picked for a while longer and asked mom if I could go get some water.

My mom told me to go ahead and gave me a jar so that I could bring some water back with me.  All I can remember is the excitement about getting out of picking cotton for as long as I could.  I was hot and tired.

I began to walk toward the truck and realized I would have to pass by Don Tomas.  I was shy about doing that.

Sure enough, as I walked by Don Tomas he asked "Para donde vas, Paulita?"

I told him I was going to get some water.  Don Tomas never looked up as he talked and picked cotton.

It took me a while to get to the water truck, but that was the whole point.  The water gave me an excuse to get away from the cotton fields.  I was exhausted and the long, hot day loomed ahead of me.  I climbed the truck and removed the lid from the drinking keg, knowing there would be a huge piece of ice in the water.  I could hardly wait to drink the cold water.  I drank slowly and prepared a jar of water for my mother.

I enjoyed my walk back toward my mother and felt shame because everyone was picking cotton faster than my mom and she had been left far behind.  This made me sad as I lifted the jar of water to her.  I folded my arms in front of my chest and looked down at the ground out of respect for my mother.  When she lowered the jar from her mouth, she asked that I take some water to Don Tomas.  As I turned toward Don tomas, who was way ahead of us, my mom asked that I show him respect.

I approached Don tomas shyly and told him that my mom has asked me to bring him some water.

His brown eyes, almost hidden in his wrinkled brown ace, showed a twinkle as a smile spread across his face.  "Me le das las gracias a tu mama.  (Give my thanks to your mom for me.)"

Don Tomas kept smiling as I crossed my arms across my chest and lowered my eyes toward the ground.  As I waited for Don Tomas to drink the water, I guessed that he must be at least 60 years old.  I felt sorry that he had to pick cotton even though he had a bad back.

"Ten, Paulita, (Here, Paulita,)" said Don Tomas.  "Deja agua en el jarro para que tomes mas agua mas tarde.  (Leave water in the jar so that you can drink water later.)  El dia va ser bien caliente y tenemos que trabajar.  (The day will be very hot and we have to work.)"

I went back to my mo and decided that I was going to pick cotton and work hard just like Don Tomas so that my mom would not have to work in the cotton fields when she was 60 years old.

Throughout the years, I continued picking cotton and so did Don Tomas.  He continued to being me pan dulce at least once a week.  I brought him water whenever I could and shared Mom's delicious tacos with him.  In our own quiet way, Don Tomas and I  became special friends.  I respected his tolerance for picking cotton with a bad back and his elderly age.  I sensed that Don Tomas and I were kindred spirits.  One day after many years of picking cotton together, Don Tomas just stopped coming to work.  I missed his friendship.  Most importantly, I never forgot that I needed to get an education so that my mom and I could stay out of the cotton fields. 

Discussion and Writing Prompts:

1.  Do you think that Don Tomas pays special attention to Paulita?  Why or why
     not?  Support your answer in a well developed essay.

2.  Using a Venn Diagram, compare and contrast Paulita and Don Tomas.  How
     were they different and how were they alike?  Write an essay comparing and
     contrasting the two characters.

3.  Illustrate the likenesses and differences between Paulita and Don Tomas by
     using a Venn diagram.  Draw the two characters and list the characteristics of
     each one.

4.  What did Paulita think would change her mother's lives and hers?  What
      would keep them out of the cotton fields and poverty?  Explain your answer
      using data regarding people in poverty.

5.   Illustrate the encounters between Paulita and Don Tomas.  Write a sentence
      or two below each picture showing their conversations.  What did the dialog
      between the characters tell you about each one?


Creative Expressions: Summer Vacation in the Cotton Fields

Creative Expressions: Summer Vacation in the Cotton Fields: When I was a kid, I always wanted our family to take a vacation to Disney World, but we were too poor.  Instead of going to Disney World...


Summer Vacation in the Cotton Fields

When I was a kid, I always wanted our family to take a vacation to Disney World, but we were too poor.  Instead of going to Disney World, I spent my summers in the cotton fields helping my mother earn money to feed all five of us.  I became an avid reader as soon as I learned to read English which was at about the age of seven.  I read about family vacations, so I created special summer trips in my mind as I picked cotton.

Summer Vacation in the
Cotton Fields
Every year, on the first day of school, I could count on my teacher’s first assignment.  We had to write about how we spent our summer vacation and then read what we had written to the rest of the class.  It never mattered what grade I was in, the assignment was always the same; and it was nothing that my classmates or teachers could relate to.

Every summer I would pick cotton, but nobody else in my class picked cotton.  They all had something exciting to read to the class.  Some had gone to Disney World with their families, others had gone to the big cities of San Antonio, Austin or Houston to visit relatives, while others had stayed on South Padre Island for most of the summer.  I couldn’t even begin to relate to those experiences.  Some summers, Mom would save enough money to take us to visit our father’s relatives in Mexico.  None of my classmates ever talked about visiting relatives in Mexico.

I was so embarrassed about picking cotton and visiting relatives in Mexico that I lied about what I did during my summer vacation.  I would write that I had spent most of my summer on South Padre Island.  That was how I explained the tan I’d gotten from spending time in the cotton fields.

I wish I had had then the pride in my culture as I do now.  I wish I could have just told my teachers and classmates that I had picked cotton and visited my relatives in Mexico.

Now that I am an adult, I am sharing my cotton picking life stories and lessons with pride and joy.  I realize that my experiences were unique and helped me become the woman that I am today.  Picking cotton was hard, but my mom turned it into a fun and learning experience.  It was definitely nothing to be ashamed of, but I did not know any better.

Visiting Mexico helped me understand my dad’s culture and gave me an insight about another country.  The trips to Mexico that Mom insisted we take helped me appreciate people that are different from me.

As a child and young adult, I was so ashamed that I lied about who I was.  I am proud of the fact that I am no longer ashamed.  I can let the whole world know that being different is a good thing.  To this day, I do not fully understand why I was ashamed of my life.  I understand that I am proud of every experience that made me different and helped me become the special person that I am.
 Discussion and Writing Prompts:

1.  Write an essay about something that you have lied about and wish you hadn’t.

2.  Illustrate a cover that you would use with this story.

3.  Do you think that her classmates would have understood about picking cotton and visiting relatives in Mexico?  Why or why not?  Explain your answer in an essay.

4.  Select a tradition from your culture that you think is unique.  Why do you think others would have difficulty understanding this particular tradition?  Write an essay explaining your point of view.

5.  Create an interview with questions that you would like to ask the narrator of this story.  Be able to justify why you would ask each particular question.

These stories will be provided and writing prompts will be provided on this blog free of charge on a weekly basis.  These stories and prompts can be provided to you in Spanish for a minimal fee.  Other bilingual activities can be reviewed and purchased at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Creative-Expressions

We can customize products, if you cannot find what you like.  Feel free to contact us at creativeexpression@outlook.com



Stories and Activities

I am one of the Teacher-Authors at Creative Expressions for Teachers Pay Teachers.  I have wanted to be a writer all of my life, and I thought creating        educational products would nurture that passion, fulfill that need.  It provided a creative outlet, but it didn’t fulfill the need of writing on a daily basis.  My sister and I decided using the blog as a platform for creative writing with some activities would help nurture my spirit for creative writing. 

We will be providing a short story with discussion and writing prompts on a weekly basis.  If you would like additional activities, please let us know.  The stories can also be provided to you in Spanish with activities.   

Again, just let us know at creativeexpression@outlook.com and we will provide them for you for a minimal fee.  

You can find additional bilingual educational activities at www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Creative-Expressions


Early to Rise

I knew it was early.  I could hear the roosters crowing and my mom whistling one of her favorite Mexican tunes.  She rolled the dough to make fresh flour tortillas for our breakfast and lunch in the cotton fields that day.  It was 5:00 AM when I heard Mom say it was time to get ready for the day.

I could feel the pain as I tried to move my sunburned body.  Every bone ached as I tried to get out of bed.  My hands were lobster red and hurt as I tried to move my fingers.  There were scratches and blisters on my hands from the day before.  I could hear Mom’s whistling in the background.  How could she be so happy when I was so miserable about having to pick cotton?

I washed my face with cold water and brushed my teeth so that I could feel better about the day.  My cotton picking clothes consisted of bright red pants and a pink long sleeved shirt with socks and tennis shoes.  I knew I would have to wear a sun bonnet to protect my skin against the sun.  I focused on not complaining as I got myself ready for the long day ahead.

After getting dressed, I had to go to the kitchen to help pack our lunch.  Mom had enough food for an army.  There was hot coffee in a thermos to drink while we ate breakfast tacos and there was Kool-Aid to drink with our lunch tacos.  Mom was a great cook and her meals definitely made the long, hot day more bearable.

Once the breakfast and lunch tacos were packed, I went to the front porch of our house to fold my burlap cotton sack and make sure that I had my gloves to protect my hands.  As I sat there, I could see the foreman’s bright blue truck turn into our driveway.

I climbed into the back of the truck and looked for a corner so that I could avoid the cold morning air once the truck started moving.  The drive was about thirty minutes long.

I climbed off the truck as soon as we reached the cotton fields.  As I placed the sun bonnet on my head, I knew that I could count on the same painful ritual the next day.

As I bent to pick cotton, every bone in my body screamed to remind me that the only way to change the morning ritual for me was to get an education so that I could get out of the cotton fields.

I could hear Mom whistling her happy tune as she began to pick cotton.
 Discussion and Writing Prompts 
  1. Why is the mother so happy and the daughter miserable and in so much pain?  Compare and contrast their outlook on life using a Venn diagram.  Explain your opinion and beliefs in a well-developed essay.
  1. Is the family in the story rich or poor?  Write an essay explaining your answer and/or opinion.
  1. Illustrate one of the scenes in the story.  Provide a title and subheading for the picture.
  1. What is the main idea in the story?  Create a five sentence paragraph explaining the main idea of the story.
  1. Create a character sketch of the daughter or mother.  Write a character sketch or draw a picture supporting your character sketch.     


Back to School Sale at Teachers Pay Teachers on August 3 - 4, 2015

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