This is a photo of myself (on the right) and my cousin Nina circa July 1976. That summer I had my first real paying job. I went to Nebraska and stayed with my cousin and her family for two weeks. She and I worked for those two weeks with a company that hired people to detassel corn. I hated that job! We got up early every morning, I think around 5:30 and worked til noon. We piled into the back of a truck with about 15 other people. It was one of those big dump truck sized trucks, and headed out to the corn fields. Each person was assigned a few rows of corn, and we had to walk down the row of corn and yank the tassel off of the top of the stalk, and drop it on the ground. The tassel is the fertile part and by pulling off the tassel it allowed those plants to be fertilized by the other desired variety of corn. Corn sex, that’s what that job was all about! You can’t really tell from the picture, but quite often the fields were muddy and the corn wet from rain. A few times we wore garbage sacks over our clothing to stay dry. I remember one gal who seemed to think she was God’s gift to detasseling. She just radiated snooty superiority and I remember her being bossy. Everyone else just seemed tired (kids those days weren’t drinking coffee like kids nowadays). I think my cousin and I spent our afternoons sunbathing at the local swimming pool, and then eating dinner and going to bed early so we could get up at that inhumane hour.
Despite my hating that job it was not my last agriculturally related job. I worked every summer for a friend’s dad who had a truck farm. I would help him pick tomatoes, cantaloupe, potatoes and melons. I would use my t-shirt as a collecting basket, the weight of those deep red globes pulling against my neck. To this day I love the smell of tomato foliage – it’s what dark green smells like to me. In college I worked seasonally for a family owned greenhouse as a dibbler. That was the term they used for the people who took the crowded seedlings, separated them, and then transplanted them to a bigger pot. For that job I also learned how to drive a school bus to deliver plants to several retail outlets. Talk about empowering! As I would drive that bus I would catch myself thinking “HOLY COW! I’m driving a school bus, a big ass school bus. I am superwoman!” I loved both of those jobs, and I think I learned the value of hard physical labor. It was a pleasure to go to the greenhouse in February when it was cold outside. I would step into the greenhouse and be surrounded by moist, fecund air. The smell of dirt and growing things strong in my nose. I would get to run my fingers deep into the dirt under the seedlings and gently separate them. Grab a tray and start poking holes and setting the seedlings in. I also got to know some amazing people while working there. I think those people had a great influence on my thinking. They were earthy, artistic people. They listened to NPR. They were non materialistic, with calloused hands and dirt under their nails. They were authentic and genuine, drove old vehicles, and laughed a lot, hired college kids and paid them a good wage. I was drawn to them and the work that we were doing. In addition to earning a paycheck, I also earned the sense of a job well done.
So, if anyone needs some strong young boys to work on their farms let me know. I’ve got three of them that I would love to learn some of these lessons.