Berry picking was the great equalizer

June 2nd, 2016 by Ken

The coming of local strawberries always reminds me of growing up in the South Sound – – and the lessons of equality taught to us by picking strawberries.

Every kid in the 1950’s picked berries.  As soon as school let out in June we’d be at the fields picking strawberries.  (School got out in early June, back then.)   The poor kids picked berries 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 am, 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 got up at 7 am and were dropped off at the fields by their parents.   But, we all made it.

We’d hide our brown bag lunch in the grass, under something, so no one would steal it.   Then we’d report to the row boss who would assign us a row to pick.  The row boss was always a woman – – not the motherly type but not a monster – – just someone whose word was law and affected how much money you could make.

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 and be thrown haphazardly behind us.

We’d always try to pick the biggest berries on each plant because they filled up the boxes quicker.   But the row boss always made us go back and redo a row because we had left too many small berries.

We’d push our flat out in front of us, making small talk with the pickers around us  – – harassing our friends and making eyes at the pretty girls.  Soon we would start throwing berries at each other.  This would go on until the row boss made us stop.

After what seemed like hours, it would be time for lunch.  We’d find our brown bags, eat the sandwiches and drink the warm liquid, usually pop of some kind.   The parents of the rich kids brought them their lunch.  Potato salad, hot fried chicken and cold pop or lemonade – – that’s what we figured they had.  But, eventually, it was time to get back to work.

Each filled flat was taken to the row boss, who would either accept it, or send us back to fill it up some more.  When it was acceptable, she’d punch our card, give us an empty flat and send us back to start all over again.  This went on until every row had been picked.

Some of us worked all season – – some just for the day.  If you worked all season you got a couple of dollars bonus.

After what seemed like hours it was time to go.   The berry bus arrived and those of us using it would face a long ride home.   The rich kids were picked up in the family car.

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



Posted in History, The Real News

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