My First Job

Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else. 

~James Matthew Barrie

my inauspicious introduction to working life

The reward for a job well done is the opportunity to do more.

~ me

First jobs.  We have all had one.  Growing up, they mark the end of our beloved, time-worn retort: “You’re not the boss of me!”   Because sometimes, actually, they are.

My first job (and by this, I mean a paid job that didn’t involve washing dishes, mowing the lawn or babysitting) was picking cherries for Gudmundson Orchards in Eastern Washington.  I don’t even know if they still exist.  But my next-older sister and I stayed with another sister over the summer when I was 13, and we picked cherries.  That was in the 70’s.

I remember the songs that were on the radio that summer, because we would get up at the crack of dawn, make our lunches and put coffee in the Thermos; and then we’d drive out to the orchard.  “Higher and Higher” by Rita Coolidge and Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” were in high rotation.  I remember those times fondly; it was rather an adventure for me, especially because I wasn’t being treated as the kid; I was a worker.  I was a wage earner.

We would climb the ladders and pick like mad, and we were paid by the bucket.  The orchards were filled with migrant workers, mostly Mexican families who worked hard beside us.  Even the children were busy working.  We saw one elderly gentleman, apparently the patriarch of his family, climb nimbly up the tree without benefit of a ladder.  He amazed us with his speed and agility.

At the end of the day, we would be very tired.  We’d take periodic breaks throughout our shifts, and we would break for lunch, but it was hard, constant work in the heat, and it wore us out.  I remember sleeping very well that summer.

One day, I went up a 13-foot ladder to finish filling my cherry bucket.  I didn’t need many more, but I couldn’t turn it in until it was full.  The orchard crew would come around with the tractor and trailer that held the huge bins that they would dump the cherries into.  I knew they were coming around, so I wanted to hurry.  I scrambled up the ladder and commenced to picking.

At some point, I overreached and lost my balance.  I fell to the ground and hit my head, cherries flying everywhere.  I vaguely remember the small children running over to scoop up my spilled fruit and take it back to their families.  Someone called the tractor crew and they came over and splashed my face with alcohol, the cold and fumes of which woke me right up.  My eyes stung from the alcohol.  I was sore, and I had scraped my leg, but I was fine.  But my bucket was empty.

That was the end of my cherry-picking career.  I got a paycheck, and I believe I may still have the check stub, but I didn’t pick any more after my fall.  They wouldn’t let me. Still, it was a great summer and remains a delightful memory.

What was your first job?  Do you have a particular anecdote or memory of those days?  I remember being so proud of that paycheck with my very own name on it!  A first job teaches us so much more than whatever it is that we are hired to do.  It is our first step into adulthood.

photo credit: williac

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Aging like a fine wine. ;-)

4 thoughts on “My First Job”

  1. Do you remember that Missy and I would continue to pick cherries for you and put out your ticket to be punched? We felt so bad that you had fallen, but Dave did not want to risk getting his boss in trouble with L and I; never mind that the migrants had preschoolers helping pick. And I felt better knowing you were home keeping Jonnie safe.
    My first job was cleaning strawberries in Marysville in the summer of my16th year. My girlfriend had arranged for us to stay with her grandma in town. One of her relatives worked at the processing plant and had gotten us our jobs. The berries were dumped, 40 lbs at a time, into a deep water bath then drained and released onto a conveyor belt. My job was to help remove foreign objects (you would not believe….), damaged berries, and stems. I also had another very important job: I was the belt braker. If for any reason any of the women on the line felt that quality was being affected, I was to pull the brake handle and stop the belt. Bosses did not want debris in the product, but they sure did not want us stopping the belt, either. When the belt was stopped, every single processing step was slowed or stopped and berries would then really pile up. And funny thing was, when anyone would risk stopping the belt, several of us would stagger or even fall because of the sudden stoppage. Our perception was affected, and in turn, so was our balance! I made $1.25 an hour. At the end of the season I brought home enough money to help buy clothes and also 2 tubs of sugared strawberries, 20lbs each, so mom could make jam and shortcake. This was back in the day when strawberries were local. And sweet. And juicy. Not crunchy.

    1. Yes, you guys did pick for me, and I forgot about that when I wrote it. That was really nice, and I appreciated that. I remember Gypsy King, as Missy called that grandpa who was such a tree climber. And whenever I hear “Margaritaville,” I think about our version, that went, “Wastin’ away again at Gudmundson Orchards/ Searchin’ for my lost bucket of cherries…”
      I like your strawberry picking story. I don’t know if I ever knew that. Wow — two 20-lb tubs of strawberries! Wouldn’t you love to have that today?

  2. So THAT’S what happened to your head . . . 😉

    You knew that was coming.

    Probably my first “real” job was working for my dad, but I usually think of my first independent job as my 3-summer career working in a salmon cannery in Alaska. We flew to Anchorage and then took a smaller plane to a tiny town called Dillingham near Bristol Bay and then an even smaller plane into our destination, Ekuk, fondly called “Yuk-Yuk” by us workers. Oh! I could write a book about the stories! Suffice it to say that working with college kids, Eskimos, and one Alaskan Indian was beyond fun despite the 13-18 days of standing and looking at conveyor belts. Even though the smell of fish was EVERYWHERE, I still love a good King Salmon to this day.

    Yep. Going to have to write about that time. See what you’ve started, Stuck?

    1. Ha! You got it! Too many blows to the head will do it every time. 😉
      Working at a cannery sounds like hard work. I am anxious to read the stories! I know when my sister came back from working on a crab processing boat up there, she had plenty of stories, some of which just make ya go, “Hmmm…”

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