Monday, August 24, 2015

BEAN PICKER BLUES


Reworked from 3-09.

One summer at the lake in Ohio, my best friend and I who were barely teenagers at the time were eager to make some money.  We were too far from town for a cool job like soda jerk and my reputation as a gardener had me banned from all local 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? 



An older friend drove us out to the coordinators house. There we discovered the meaning of ethnic diversity. The pickers came in various shades of white, brown and black.  Sis and I advertised our newbie status with our pale, untanned skins and pressed jeans with cuffs rolled "just right" and no hats.

We were driven out to the farm in an open sided stake truck 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 ran a tight ship. "Yes Ma'am," was all she wanted to hear from us.

Sis and I hunkered down in the dirt.  These were bush beans that we couldn't comfortably pick standing up so we  put our large baskets to our side and started picking on hands and knees. Pick, toss and drag, pick, toss and drag, down the endless rows. 

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 right while Sis picked to the left, was helping herself to Sis's beans. She was grabbing them by the handful to put in her own basket. Before I could let her know, I looked back at my own basket and saw a hand that wasn't mine in my basket grabbing my beans.

I was just getting ready to smack the hand in my basket and alert Sis when a giant being straddling the row casting a huge shadow.   It was Belle and she grabbed up the fellow behind me and the girl behind Sis by their shirts, one in each hand. 

Belle had noticed their poaching of the newbie baskets and stopped it quickly 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 as we picked and dragged. Our backs hurt, the sun burned our flesh, hands were sore and our knees were taking a beating.  Up and down the rows, pick and drag then getting our baskets tallied. Migrant worker was scratched off my list of possible occupations that very day. The interesting thing was at the end of the day, there was no ethnic diversity, we were all similar brown, dusty beings.

I made a grand total of a dollar and a quarter that day. Of course that was five weeks worth of allowances but somehow, it didn't seem like much. The lesson learned, worth more than the money, was that no matter how hard a job I faced in the ensuing 50 years, I always had bean picking to make me realize, things could be a lot worse.  Did you have a job that sets the bar low for you?

Those who make a living today picking produce have my respect.  Don't let the Donald send you home. 

23 comments :

  1. What a story, and very well told at that. I've never had the opportunity to do something like that job, but I rather wish I had. They all have my respect, too, and I do hope The Donald will soon find something else to do with his time. I did herd earthworms once upon a time, but that's a story for another time. :-)

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  2. I've never picked produce for a wage, but I have shelled peas and shucked corn until my fingers were so sore I couldn't bend them. Nothing at all like the back breaking labor of cotton picking or hay hauling my dad did when he was a child. (This is why he joined the air force right out of high school) I helped my husband put hay up last year and believe you me, that is some TOUGH work.
    Anyway, my hands are soft now and I wouldn't last two minutes bending over a row of crops before my back would start screaming at me to stop the misery!

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  3. Every kid should have a job like that. I emptied dirty trays at a cafeteria and set them in the dishwasher. Not nearly as exhausting or physically challenging as bean picking. My son worked in the kitchen at a restaurant. He did not wash dishes, but seeing the older men do the job he knew he did not want to be washing dishes when he grew up...

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  4. I've had some bad jobs, but nothing to top bean picking.

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  5. Lots of orchards where I grew up. I picked cherries every summer for money for school clothes. It was hard, hard work and I would fall into bed every night exhausted and see cherries in my dreams. But I learned a lot about life too. I have some good memories of those times. Every year my Dad would remind us to lock the doors because "the migrants are in town". But I learned that they were just like everyone else, trying to make a living, loving their families, just good people. Sure, there could be a bad one in the bunch but not as a group. A valuable life lesson.

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  6. I've picked strawberries, peaches and cotton. Didn't "cotton" to any of them. Strawberries were too tempting to eat, peach fuzz made me itch and cotton made my fingers bleed.

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  7. This brought back memories of a spring break job my brother and I and two friends had one year--picking trees/thinning nursery stock for a tree farm. Then my friend and I bought self tanning stuff so we could tell people we went to Florida for the break. No one was fooled by our orange selves though.

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  8. Great story! Yay for Belle, who taught a good lesson to those little snitches.

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  9. I never had a paying job like that. But mom took us every summer to pick raspberries at the neighboring farm - Edith had 3 miles of bushes! Olga's story is familiar too, as my Dad had us plant trees for shelter breaks between fields. The little seedlings had to be weeded frequently in the first couple of years to make sure they survived. I can't remember how many miles of trees we planted and weeded, but it was probably a mile or two each year.

    There are a lot of jobs that are considered menial I'd never want to do. Thank goodness for the Belles of this world.

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  10. I grew up in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Picking crops is what many kids dis during the summer. since we were poorer than many kids, we had to work more, and harder. We started a few days after school was out about Memorial Day, picking strawberries. Crawling in the mud and the rain and the sun and the heat, day after day.
    By the 4th of July we were in the black cap patch - black raspberries to other folks. Yay! We got to stand up for this job, but there were stickers, and scratches. And hot sun.
    Without much of a break, we moved on to the bean fields. These were huge fields of pole beans. We could stad up, and bend over, and shove our baskets ahead of us. It was August and it was hot. The bean vines were abrasive and I had to wear long sleeves to prevent an itchy rash. There was very little air moving in those tall bean rows. I hated it. But that's how we earned money for our school clothes. Year after year, we worked in the fields, lucky to get a week off before school started up again.

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  11. Never did work outdoors for money. But when I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1980 I was charmed by the u-pick farms and did some canning for a couple of years. Now we have a big garden and I farm out the work to others when I can. I love the IDEA of it, though.

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  12. Having been farm ranch raised it was all part of the deal. Sometimes you got paid, sometimes you didn't. Picking up walnuts and prunes early on, and running a hoeing crew in the beans. The hoeing was the worst, since the bean leaves would stick to your jeans til you could barely walk, and you had to walk fast, hoe weeds fast to keep up. The Mexicans in the crew had the best lunches...tacos and hot pepsi. Some of my closest friends over the years have been Mexicans that came here to work. They decided it was a better place, became citizens, raised their kids, and have contributed much to their communities and new country. It isn't that way now... and the interesting thing is they are the most vocal against our current illegals.

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  13. I love to pick vegetables and fruits from the plants. It give one type of enjoyment.You have got a wonderful time in doing them...

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  14. Oh, Patti! That has to have been the hardest job. The only thing that came close for me was picking strawberries on my grandfather's farm. But that was for love -- to spend time with him -- not money. Still, I remember how hot it was and how tired I was afterwards. I have a lot of respect for people who make their living that way.

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  15. No Kidding! I pulled thistles out of soybeans long before herbicides were invented...:(

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  16. Djan,
    Ok, I want to hear that story. Herding earthworms??? Can't wait.

    Terri,
    I know, age makes those tough jobs not doable. Hum, maybe that is a good thing.

    Meryl,
    Goodness that had to be boring. Your son found out early what not to do.

    joeh,
    Lucky you but maybe some that you had would have broken me.

    Marilyn.
    Work that hard makes us appreciate the easier jobs later. I agree about migrant workers. They really earn their pay. We are all pretty much the same, just on different pay scales.

    Gail,
    Think cotton would have been the worst. Nothing to eat and bloody fingers.

    Mary lee,
    Congress would work but how about attorney general?? She knew how to spot the weak. crooked link quickly and dispatch them.

    Olga,
    That nursery job sounded like it would really work your back. Funny about the fake tan.

    Cheryl,
    She was my hero that summer. She made me believe in karma.

    Eileen,
    Can't imagine miles of trees. How disheartening. Yes, yea for all the Belles who mete out justice.

    Linda R,
    Ooh, and here I thought pole beans would have been so much better. Good to know I wasn't missing anything. Summer vacation sure wasn't one for you was it?

    Linda Myers,
    I always think if you can get someone else to do your work, you have succeeded. Glad you have helpers now.

    Brighid,
    I agree, the migrants are some of the hardest workers there are. Didn't know they felt that way about illegals. Wonder why when a lot of them also started that way.

    Weekend Windup,
    If it is your own garden, nothing is better.

    Dr. Kathy,
    Ooh, strawberries really make you bend a lot plus the temptation to eat some of them. Me too on having respect for those who do the job.

    TB,
    Thistles?? Ok you get the prize.

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  17. I once picked strawberries for a few days in the hot sun in southern Oregon. That was a lot of work, a lot like your bean experience. I did also do a week working for BirdsEye in Oregon, cutting tons of broccoli for freezing. That was quite an eye opener. It was a very long night shift. We could work 39 hours in four days without having to join the union. So, my boyfriend and I did just that. Never again, though.

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  18. A good lesson learned at that vulnerable age.
    I worked in a corn canning factory at age 15
    and in the scary cutter-room yet. The only
    fun was breaktime.

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  19. That is an amazing story! Thank you so much for sharing! Belle seemed to be a wonderful person after all, even though she was intimidating at first :) I think a lesson like this is very valuable. I worked in the production department of companies during summer vacations as a teenager to earn money while being in school...my parents wanted to make sure that I know what I'm going to school for. I learned that lesson but I also got taught to value the people that are actually doing all the hard jobs on a daily basis. Lots of hugs to you, I hope you're doing well :)

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  20. Fantastic story. Bella and Sherriff Joe should have teamed up! You learned a valuable lesson at a young age. I worked in a cheese factory my Jr and Sr year of HS. I was a 'Gouda Girl' as opposed to a 'badda girl' he he. It was hard work, standing on wet cement all day, either putting the raw cheese in the press cups, or up in the grinder room, grinding the edges off the cheese before it went in for waxing. What didn't beat us, made us stronger, makes one think about all the food that is tossed out. The fruit of hard labor.

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  21. robin,
    Interesting what we do in our youth. Those 10 hour days had to have been tough. Wonder if you even fix broccoli today?

    Manzi,
    Bad work was OK if we had moments of fun. I have no doubt that you managed to do that well.

    Beate,
    You are so right. If nothing else it makes us appreciate those who do those jobs on a daily basis with no hope of improvement. Scary.

    Muffy,
    Good to see you. Belle really ran a tight ship and I was really glad she did. Funny that you were a Gouda Girl as opposed the badda girl:))

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  22. Yae for Belle! That's such a wonderful story, Patti. I've been away and have been looking forward to catching up with you. Oh yes, I had a bar lowering job. I worked three summers as a pineapple trimmer at Dole. I decided to go to college after that. Every time I eat fresh pineapple now, I get a bead of sweat on my forehead... even in winter.

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