LAGRULLA, Texas _ Fighting back tears and with ear-to-ear smiles, the Martinezes were reunited with their family after seven months of separation.
As the truck and car carrying Raul and Maria Elena Martinez and their two youngest children _ Jimmy, 10, and Billy, 7 _ pulled up to their home, the children and grandchildren they had left behind greeted them with hugs and kisses.
The family had spent four days and had traveled 2,141 miles to reach LaGrulla from Boardman, Ore.
Although the trip had taken its toll on everyone, enthusiasm was running high as they jumped out of the vehicles to greet friends and family. The cloudy, rainy weather did not dampen spirits.
The scene is typical this time of year in LaGrulla and elsewhere in The Valley, the area of South Texas that is the permanent home to many migrant workers.
The first in the Martinez caravan to arrive was Raul, the two boys and son-in-law Christobal Saenz. About 15 minutes later Maria Elena arrived. Immediately, her sons and daughter Doris, 20, ran to the car to meet their mother. In all the excitement, Maria Elena had difficulty unbuckling her seat belt.
No words were exchanged between mother and children, only warm embraces and joyful looks through watery eyes.
Raul Martinez Jr., his wife Iris, and their 4-year-old daughter Abby, first stopped to visit with Iris' family. They arrived at the Martinez home an hour later with Iris' family.
Raul and Maria Elena were led to the house. But before they could enter, Maria Elena's mother, Manuela Solis, 78, walked outside to hug her daughter. Again, no words were spoken, and everyone smiled as they gave each other a long embrace.
Once inside the house, the parents walked around to get reacquainted with their house. Their daughter Doris and 19-year-old son, Robert, had been living in the house while their parents were working the harvest in the Pacific Northwest. Charlie, 15, joined Doris and Robert in late August.
``Well, the house is clean, but I don't like the curtains in my bedroom,'' Maria Elena told her daughter in Spanish. ``And we need to put in some brighter light bulbs in some of the rooms.'' Doris patiently kept smiling at her mother while repeating, ``Yes, mom. Yes, mom.''
Outside, the Martinezes' sons began unloading the family truck.
``The boxes with kitchen stuff stay in the kitchen, the rest of the boxes go in the back rooms until your mother is ready to unload them,'' Manuela Solis instructed her grandchildren in Spanish. ``When my husband and I came home from the harvest we always made sure everything was put in the back rooms. We tried to keep the front rooms clean for company to drop by.''
The daughters started unpacking utensils and nonperishables and putting them in the cupboards. After the truck was unloaded, the sons washed it.
Billy and Jimmy began running and playing in the back yard with their cousins.
Word spread quickly in the tiny community of LaGrulla, population 1,445, �MDNM�that the Martinezes had arrived. Almost instantly the house was filled with neighbors and other family members, such as Raul's brothers and 91-year-old father.
The next two hours were filled with hugs and kisses. Everyone enjoyed a warm meal of �MDUL�mole�MDNM� _ a traditional Mexican dish of chicken served with a dark, thick, spicy chili gravy _ rice, potato salad, grilled chicken and sausage.
``Every time we come home, this is how we are greeted. My children spend the entire morning preparing a dish of �MDUL�mole�MDNM�, and they're the ones who unpack and put everything away for me,'' Maria Elena said as she sat at the table to relax while sipping a cup of coffee.
One of her sons brought in a crate of apples that Raul had picked while working in Boardman. Almost instantly the Martinez children began putting the apples in sacks to take home.
Raul began talking to his sons and sons-in-law about this year's apple harvest and the amount of money earned.
As the evening wore on, more family and friends stopped by the house to welcome the family back. Doris took Jimmy and Billy to the bathroom, where she cut their hair. ``It was too long. I can't believe you let them wear it like that, Mom,'' Doris told Maria Elena. Her mother looked at her and replied ``We didn't have money to cut it, and I don't know how to cut hair.''
The highlight of the day was seeing the two new additions to the Martinez family. While they were in the Northwest _ working in Pasco, Walla Walla and Boardman _ a daughter and daughter-in-law each gave birth to a son. The infants are now 3 - and 6-months-old.
Three hours after the family arrived, Charlie walked through the front door. He had been at school.
``There he is,'' Maria Elena exclaimed, and ran to hug her son. She had not seen Charlie since August, when he decided to leave Boardman and return to Texas on a Greyhound bus.
``You look so good,'' she kept repeating to him. Charlie walked slowly, almost shyly, over to his father to shake his hand, then ran out the back door to look for his younger brothers.
The Martinezes were glad to see that all of their family members were in good health. The only tragedy that had happened while they were gone was that Raul Jr. and Iris' home in Mission, Texas, had been burglarized while they were away.
Someone had pried open the burglar bars on the windows. Their television set and hunting rifles were the only things taken. The rest of the house was vandalized. No one was caught, but the family was insured.
``This happened a few weeks ago, when we were in Boardman. That's when we found out,'' Iris said, sounding disgusted.
``Well, it's all right. As long as we all got here fine and everyone is in good health,'' Maria Elena said, trying to comfort her daughter-in-law.
``That's true, but still you leave your homes, travel thousands of miles to work real hard to earn some money, just to have someone break into your home to be mean,'' Iris responded.
As nighttime approached, the families began preparing to go home and get their children ready for trick-or-treating. It was Halloween.
That night, with painted faces and plastic bags in hand, Billy and Jimmy went knocking on doors with their cousins. Maria Elena stayed at home to talk with her mother. Raul went next door to spend time with his sons.
After a day of excitement and exhaustion everyone went to sleep at 11 p.m.
The next day Raul and Maria Elena prepared to go into ``el pueblo,'' which in English means ``the town'' but is commonly used here to refer to the town of Rio Grande, located about 13 miles northwest of LaGrulla. The Martinezes would do some grocery shopping and enroll Jimmy and Billy in school.
``This is where we'll be the next four or five months, and we need to get back to normal,'' Maria Elena said. ``It's good to be back home.''