George wiped the sweat off his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt and sighed. Damned if this wasn’t some work, but then again that’s all he ever did, or seemed like he ever did. The front and back of his shirt were damp with perspiration and his sus penders were beginning to rub the top of his shoulders raw causing some irritation to him.
He scratched his chest and looked around him. Sunlight reflec ted off large bleached boulders around which a river flowed, one that supported dreams. An obscure river that, five years ago no one would have given a second thought, but now & now things were different. Three other men were engaged in the same activity he was. They were panning for gold.
Ever since January 24, 1848, when James Marshall, originally from New Jersey, discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill, people had been flocking to California hoping to get rich. Many were still waiting to score that big vein, the dream of endless riches. It was a dream most would never achieve.
Like many people, George wasn’t from California. He was from France his French name was originally Georges. He left in 1841 at the age of 18 looking for a new life in the land of opportunity, but at times like this he had second thoughts and wished he’d listened to Rene. Maybe he had been right after all.
Rene was his father, a former sergeant in Napoleon’s army, veteran of Austerlitz and Waterloo he was fiercely loyal to the former Emperor and patriotic to France and did not like the idea of his eldest son leaving France for the United States, a wilder ness filled with blood thirsty painted Indians who scalped their enemies and committed other atrocities to their bodies, dead or alive. As far as Rene was concerned, America was not the land of opportunity but one of death. Anyone would be a fool to think otherwise.
Rene’s arguments did little to sway Georges mind. He wanted to live his own life and be his own man, far away from the shadow of his heroic and opinionated father.
Growing up on their farm had made him strong and indepen dent. He could ride and hunt, drive a wagon and handle animals. He could plant and harvest, birth sows or a calf, sheer sheep and butcher as required.
Rene and Georges continued to argue and each time it was worse than before, voices shouting, dishes being broke, doors being slammed. It never really amounted to anything, all of their bickering. The boy had made up his mind, he was going to America and that was that.
It was finally after one such argument that Georges packed up his few belongings and left the farm. His father watched from the barn, saying nothing. There was nothing to say. When he saw Georges disappear over a far hill, the old man began to weep. He began to finally understand that thing that all fathers wished for their sons but dreaded the day that it happened. The boy was now a man.
Georges was able to gain westward passage on a ship out of Le Harve within a week of his arrival in the port city, much to his joy and later his regret. Sailing across the Atlantic enforced Georges’ belief that a sailor’s life was no life was no life for him. During the six week passage he was sick most of the way and had lost so much weight that he was sure the end was near. Relief came in the form of land, in this case, the shores of New York City, in what many considered “the promised land”.