I woke up this morning at 4:30 a.m., which is completely unlike me. I am not, in any way, nor have I ever been, a morning person. It’s a gawd-awful hour to be up. I don’t think that even Jesus has had his morning coffee by that hour.
I don’t know why I woke so early. Possibly it was the glaring presence of old Sol craning in through the blinds or those blasted chirping early birds who get all the worms. I hate those birds. Chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp, chirp, they go. They remind me of my late childhood: rising early to catch the bus for a day of picking strawberries in the fields that once were so abundant around Clark County.
Back in the 1960s, kids did that sort of thing in early June (and later on in the summer we moved on to cucumbers) for spending money. I remember it vividly — stumbling out of bed, groping at the alarm clock, managing, somehow, to throw on some clothes, choke down an untoasted Pop-Tart® and stagger out the door and up the block in time to board the dirty, yellow junk heap masquerading as a transportation device. Half-hour later — a half-dew, half-mist hanging over the rows of red fruit — bucket in hand, I’d begin the arduous task of filling it again and again.
I think I earned a dollar per flat back then, and I was lucky to have picked the whole of two and a half flats by the noonish quitting time. I probably could have turned in a few more
had I not eaten so many or pelted other kids in the back with them. But, I guess that was part of the “fun.”
It was a dirty job — kneeling and crawling in the dew-dirt gunk that caked to your knees and hands, berry stained from head to toe. The brown-red mixture would dry on a person like a demon plaster of Paris — stiff and stinking of sweat.
Berry picking from dawn to noon. I don’t know why I did it. Insanity? It certainly couldn’t have been for the money. I don’t remember ever feeling I was getting rich by the venture. I may have been able to buy a comic book or pack or two of baseball cards for the day’s work. I don’t know. I just felt tortured. And tired.
Alas, kids aren’t hired to pick berries anymore. Child labor laws perhaps, or more efficient means, I suppose. Or maybe kids are smarter (or spoiled) these days and so farmers must employ older, harder-working itinerant field hands for the job. However, looking back now, I think it might have actually been good for me. Maybe it was what formed my work ethic and taught me the value of money. Or, perhaps, it was a way to keep me out of trouble.
Needless to say, today’s children don’t have the benefit of such “character-building” employment. Now, they have video games which are often played into the late hours of the evening. But, no one gets up at 4:30 a.m. to do so, I’ll bet.
Not even Jesus.
Gregory E. Zschomler is an author and artist residing in Cannon Beach. This piece was excerpted from “Rocketman: From the Trailer Park to Insomnia and Beyond,” a collection of short stories, poems and photographs from his sleepless life and addled imagination. His newest book is “Louie, the Lonely Lighthouse.”