Tuesday, May 12, 2009

MIGRANT WORKER BLUES






From previous posts, you have gathered that I will do pretty much any thing for a buck from selling coconuts to being a private eye. Well I did turn down my "first pimp" but as long as it was legal, I was game.


One summer on the lake Sis, my best friend from the second grade and I were wanting to make some money. We were barely teenagers at that time. Since there weren't any babies at the lake , baby sitting was out. We were too far from town for a cool town job like soda jerk and my reputation as a gardener had me banned from all yards.



Then we heard a farm in the tiny town just North of us was looking for bean pickers. We thought, how hard could that be? We teamed up with a couple of the boys at the lake and were driven out to the coordinators house. There we discovered the meaning of ethnic diversity. We were white, brown and black as a group. We were clearly novices in our pressed jeans with cuffs rolled "just right" and no hats.


We were driven out to the farm in an open stake sided truck. Actually, I was feeling pretty important. I was a worker, an honest to God worker. Sis and I were scoping out the guys to see if there was anyone interesting. That was a permanent teenage, unpaid but often rewarding, occupation. There was one kind of cute guy our age but there was a language barrier so that went no where.


We were dumped out and faced what looked like an endless field of bean plants. Row after row after row. A huge black woman named Belle was our boss and she told us to get a basket and start picking. No instructions but then it really wasn't rocket science. Belle was imposing and a bit scary. I mean this woman was really big. Very tall and heavy but nothing giggled so you knew it was muscle not fat. You could tell she would run a tight ship. "Yes Ma'am," was all she wanted to hear from you.



Sis and I hunkered down in the dirt ( these were bush beans so you couldn't pick standing up) put our baskets to our side and started picking. Pick and drag, pick and drag. Sis was in the row next to me so we kind of raced as we have always been competitive. She was a bit ahead of me when I saw it. The picker behind her that was supposed to be picking on the left while Sis picked to the right, was helping herself to Sis's beans. She was grabbing them by the handful. Before I let her know, I looked back at my own basket and saw a hand that wasn't mine grabbing my beans.



I was just getting ready to smack the hand in my basket and to alert Sis when a giant being straddling the row, grabbed up the fellow behind me and the girl behind Sis by their shirts. It was Belle. She had noticed the poaching and stopped it quick by jerking them to their feet. They had to empty their baskets into ours and were sent to back to the truck to sit out the day. Now if only the criminal justice system worked so well. Belle was awesome.


The sun made the sweat and dirt run into our eyes. We were used to playing all day in the sun at the lake but a quick dip always made everything right again. Not here, just pick and drag. Our backs hurt, hands were sore and our knees were taking a beating. Thirst was a constant and the warm water available helped little. Up and down the rows, pick and drag. Migrant worker was scratched off my list of possible occupations that day. The interesting thing was at the end of the day, there was no ethnic diversity, we were all similar brown, dusty beings.


We made a grand total of seventy five cents each. Of course that was three weeks worth of allowance but somehow, it didn't seem like much. The lesson learned , that was worth more than the money, was that no matter how hard a job I have faced in the ensuing 50 years, I always had bean picking to make me realize, things could be worse. Those who make a living today picking beans have my respect. I sure couldn't do it and I am grateful that other options were offered.

10 comments :

  1. That's a hard way for a teen to learn a lesson, but it must have been a good one, since it stuck with you for so long!!

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  2. A really good story, patti. Reminds me that I once spent a day picking strawberries in southern Oregon. It gets very hot and dusty there in the summer. It was backbreaking work with very little reward. Well except for an occasional juicy berry straight into our mouths for our efforts.

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  3. Some of my kin talk of long hours picking cotton or chopping tobacco, including my husband.

    For many years my parents continued the idea of a "Victory garden" and I was recruited, hmmm, better word, ordered to help the harvest which was really only a few rows.

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  4. I really enjoyed your post about picking beans. I never did pick beans except out of our garden when mom told me, "Go pick a mess of beans." And I did.

    When I was past 12 and pretended I was already a teenager, I use to pick tomatoes for local farmers whose pickers were mostly town kids and blacks from down south hired and imported, so to speak, for the tomato harvest each year.

    A hamper is tall, kinda comes to a point sawed off even, and made from the stuff bushel baskets are made from. They hold a lot of tomatoes but for each one the farmer paid us on the spot -- ten cents.

    I thought it was the best way in the world to make money, but then I grew up and the price remained -- ten cents. I realized that tomato pickin' was not going to put groceries on the table, so I joined the Army.

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  5. Hi Patti and thanks to visiting my website and my pics.
    Sins our retour back home I have been busy.
    I was little surprise becouse I think I found you on un outher site. I am not sure it was you but it was same flower photos.

    We had great trip and we got lot of sunshine in Florida, it was lovely warm.Now, back in Finland we have to wait warm weather and it's not so lovely at all.

    Tomorrow our oldest granson has 16 year.
    And mine 70 years are coming soon in august.
    If I remember right yours are in June...or?

    Blue

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  6. kenju,
    I am a quick study and remember lessons maybe too well. Might be why I never remarried. Try real hard to only meke a mistake once. Sometimes works, sometimes doesn't.

    robin
    Thanks, it was fun in retrospect. I like your jobe better with great tasting strawberries to munch on.
    Raw green beans didn't appeal.Sure was hot work though wasn't it.

    Nitwit,
    Picking cotton and chopping tobacco has to be the hardest jobs ever. I respect those who can for I sure can't. Too high of a wimp factor.
    Victory gardens are returning, be careful.

    Abe,
    Ah, you da man to have enjoyed tomato picking but like robin, at least you could eat the crop.
    The Army had to be equally hard and a lot more dangerous but better pay. Glad y0u are here to talk about it. Thank you for your service.

    Blue,
    I only think I am on one site. If anyone wanted to use my flower pictures, they are welcome. They weren't that good anyway but I liked them.
    Both of us are getting ready to turn the big 70. I go before you in July so I will let you know what it is like.

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  7. Hi Patti, I'm catching up on your blog again as I have been away for a couple of days. I see there are some lovely things to read, and photos too.

    That was quite a memory. I can see the poor raw hands at the end of the day of picking beans, and the dusty faces! I used to pick Carnations once..., and weed them, not nearly so hard as what you did, but there were some things in common. I think there were something like 44,000 plants in three large glasshouses. And we would start picking just before the sun came up whilst the stems were firm and crisp!
    I got an "ear full" from the boss one day when I didn't come to work, because I was sick (literally vomiting) with some virus. His point was that, on a farm, some things just have to be done. I have never forgotten it.

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  8. Peter,
    Thanks.
    Your carnation snipping sounds similar.
    I can understand the bit about farming. When I raised calves, it was a 24/7 job. Hungry calves could care less if I was hurling my cookies. I think he was a bit rough on you. You were not a farmer but the help.

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  9. That's really tough way to make a living ... and you're right, you don't know that hardship until you've done it, or a little of it, yourself.

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  10. Robert,

    How true. we often need to have a little rough spot to appreciate smooth sailing.

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