What We Learned About Today Back Then

Author: James Pellegrin

This story by James Pellegrin '69 was originally published by Notre Dame Magazine.


In the fall of 1968, four college kids, myself included, drove a brand new white Pontiac from South Bend, Indiana, to a tiny agricultural town on the Texas-Mexico border called Rio Grande City. It was the days of the United Farm Workers’ grape boycott, and though the local crop was melons, not grapes, a strike had somehow been organized in that godforsaken town on that godforsaken border.

When our professor-friend Ernie heard about this action, he sent the four of us down there to check it out and support the farm workers. He supplied the Pontiac from his dad’s car dealership.

“Try to learn something,” he said, smiling, “and try not to wreck the damned car.”

So we drove day and night all the way from South Bend to the Rio Grande. Four white college guys with empty wallets, heads full of big ideas and nothing better to do. Quite often whoever was driving would fall asleep at the wheel, and the car would swerve onto the rough median and wake us all up. We referred to this as “graveling.” For food, we bought big bags of cheap hamburgers, which we called “gut bombs.” The car became the White Whale. We laughed and slept and joked and sang as we rolled along; we were happy and free, and more important, we were on a mission from God.