Berry picking was the great equalizer

June 25th, 2008 by Ken

One of my greatest memories, and that which separated South Sounders from others, is berry picking.

Every kid, during the 1950’s, picked berries.  As soon as school was out in June we’d be at the fields picking strawberries.  The poor kids did it because they needed the money.  The rich kids did it because their parents felt it would teach them the honor of hard work.

Poor kids rode the berry bus.  We’d get up at 5 a.m. walk a mile or more to the bus stop and get on the berry bus.   It would make its way around Thurston County picking up kids along the route.  After an hour or more of riding the bus we’d make it to the fields.  The rich kids were dropped off at the field by their folks, but we all made it.

We’d hide our brown bag lunch in the grass, under something so no one would steal it, and report to the row boss who was usually a large woman.  She would assign us a row.

The fields were always damp in the early morning and it was chilly, so we’d start with our jackets on, but very shortly, as the summer sun warmed us up and dried out the fields, the jackets would come off, thrown haphazardly behind us.

We’d  pick the biggest berries first because they filled up the boxes quicker, but the row boss would always make us go back and redo a row because we left too many small berries.

We’d push our flats in front of us, making small talk with the pickers around us and making eyes at the girls.   But soon, we’d become bored with the work and would start a berry fight and throw rotting berries at each other, anything to pass the time.

After what seemed like hours, it would be time for lunch.  We’d find our brown bag, eat the sandwich and drink the pop, now warm from the sun.  But, too soon, it was back to work.

Each filled flat would be taken to the row boss, who would either accept it, or send us back to fill it up more.  Once she was OK with it, she’d punch our card, and we’d start all over again with a new flat.

Some of us worked all season, some worked for just a few days, but after what seemed like forever the berry bus would arrive and we’d stop picking for the day.  The rich kids got picked up at the field in the family car.  We’d get to ride the berry bus on its long trip back home, knowing that tomorrow we’d start it all over again.

As the season progressed some of us would continue on to pick raspberries and later green beans.  But we all picked strawberries, rich and poor.  It was the great equalizer.

Posted in History, The Real News

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