The Last Bus Of Summer |
by Kathe Campbell
I was an only adopted kid nicknamed Casey back in the dark ages. I understand now what I didn't understand then. My family was sweet and sheltering and the best folks a girl could have. Sometimes though, that just wasn't enough when 12-year-olds decide their own fate. Mom always said . . . "If Pudd sat in a mud puddle, you would too." Probably, for Pudd was my best friend. Groovy dreams meandered through our young minds when peers took precedence and parents became the pits, even in 1944.
We didn't need the extra money. Dad had a great career and I had an allowance, but entrepreneurial genius overwhelmed my adolescence. I baby sat hour upon hour, loathing stinky diapers and cleaning dirty little hands and faces, highchairs and kitchen floors. I resolved that if this was marriage, leave me out.
My buddies knew of job openings picking berries in the summer months out in the vast and fertile Puyallup Valley. In those days one didn't need a parent's signed note. The picker busses left the Winthrop Hotel weekday mornings promptly at six-thirty. Mom and dad encouraged me to forget the idea until they discovered Monnie, Jiggs, and Pudd were equally eager to satisfy fiscal stirrings. Our families perceived the work as slave labor for young ladies, but for us it was the snipping of a pre-teen apron string. We would flutter pubescent wings and become rich beyond our wildest dreams.
Reluctant families gave in after mutually thrashing out pros and cons. In hindsight, parental grumbling about daily early hour chauffeuring was probably galling them the most. Nonetheless, Monday morning we four arrived at the busses all decked out in rolled up Levis, our dad's white shirts down to our knees, cardigan sweaters, and sack lunches. God forbid even one of us should begin our careers unfashionably clad.
The morning hours were cool, perfect for berry picking. But as the day wore on, I became acutely aware of the one ton flat contraption hanging off my shoulders. The sweater was discarded, and finally the shirt right down to my cotton tee while the sun scorched the fields and me. A few thousand new freckles would become my badge of financial triumph.
I kept up with the gang over in the next rows until the picker boss tapped me on the shoulder. "You're missing half the crop, girlie. Go back and start over," he growled. But for one or two berries, I was hard pressed to see any strays. The scolding slowed my pace and my skimpy flat appeared a sorry sight. It was as though Kilroy was eating raspberries faster than I could pick.
At last, twelve o'clock, one flat down and my tummy was growling audibly. Peanut butter and jelly never tasted so good, even while painfully noting everyone else had easily picked over two flats. They would surely go home with two bucks or better and I'd be lucky to have a dollar in my poke. I had wanted so badly to show mom and dad I could do it, but the thought of squalling kids and dirty diapers for two bucks a day didn't sound half bad. I wasn't a quitter though, so as long as my best friends were picking, I'd pick too.
With every week down, a blessed weekend loomed ahead. Despite the heat, dust, and sticky stained fingers, I boarded the last bus with a best day total of a buck-fifty. Our little sunburned gang agreed there must be a better way to make a living, for it was important that we had struck out on our own to make it big in the world. Equally important, our smug parents had allowed it when rescuing our exhausted bodies at the hotel.
Monnie helped out at a kid's day camp. Pudd decided to help her father do odd jobs at his lumber yard. Jiggs spent the rest of the summer shucking corn and washing produce at the corner market. And I, well I gladly went back to caring for the divorcee's kids. She even took me along to her family's beach house as the nanny for two glorious weeks - with pay. Our perceived wealth would have undoubtedly caused endless tax complications for our folks. So, lending our spare time talents to a more productive calling, we collected thousands of newspapers and tin cans for the war effort.
I was a sorry berry picker, and although I love berries, you'll not find me picking a bucket anytime soon. I stopped at a fruit stand up in the Flathead Valley recently. With each succulent cherry and each chilled sip of local apple juice, I couldn't help but recall how lucky I'd been while watching the young picker crews. I had parents who longed for me to grow up reveling in the memories of a privileged childhood. All well and good my darlings, but oh how my youthful memories always summon up the tough, rather than the easy.