Tuesday, July 1, 2008
The Great Potato Harvest
Little kids, at least in the nineteen fifties, weren't often given the opportunity to earn money. A few might have gotten an allowance, but there were many strings attached, and the chance to earn some extra cash was rare.
While living in Idaho, it won't shock anyone to know that the local farmers regularly hired women and children during harvest season to pick potatoes. The big combine would go through the field and the potatoes would be left more or less on top of the dirt. Then the women and children would be given empty burlap bags and they'd head down the rows. You had to bend at the waist and reach into the dirt, pick up those big Idaho russets and shove them into the sack. Then you had to drag that sack on down the row until it was full. At that point you had to heft the sack up and drag it back to the collection point. There it would be weighed and tallied up by your name. The picker would be given a new sack, and back into the field you would go. As the day progressed, those burlap bags got increasingly heavier. I remember it too well.
We probably got five cents a bag. The sun was hot. You don't think about having a sore back or being exhausted when you're a little kid, until it happens. It was the summer between third and fourth grade for me. My brother Kenny was a year behind that, Ellen two years ahead of me, and Pat old enough to work on the combine. At one point during the day, Kenny let Mom know how the three of us kids she had taken to the field all felt, and it was no longer gratitude for the chance to earn some money.
Dragging a new empty burlap bag behind him up the potato row, he trudged up to our mother.
"Mama, can little kids have heart attacks?"
"No, honey, they can't."
As he returned to his spot in line, we all clearly heard his response. "Where there's a will, there's a way."