April 27, 2020
Our family moved for dad’s job after my final year in Jr. High. That first summer was particularly rough. I was not old enough to drive and I did not know where to find friends. The town did have a city pool, so I got the habit of walking the half mile to the park and then hanging around the pool area all afternoon. One afternoon I was approached by a man in an old pickup truck who asked if I wanted to make some money picking watermelons. I told him I would have to ask, so he drove me to my parents’ house and then out to the melon fields.
When we arrived, the field was huge! He apparently supplied melons to all the local markets. He introduced me to the crew and took off. The crew consisted of the foreman and his wife, and two other young males like me. I recall the wife drove the truck, the foreman stacked the melons in the bed and the three of us walked behind cutting the ripe melons off the vine. Since I had never worked in the melon fields I was told how to tell if they were ripe, how to cut them and how to carefully move them to the truck. I also learned another important piece of information. The owner left strict instructions that we were not to eat the melons. The exception was if one fell off the truck and broke open. During the three days I worked the field it amazed me how a melon would fall off the truck right about break time.
I tried growing melons in my back yard in Kansas but had no success. I am sure one of the problems was the ground I chose was a patch of yard along the fence that I dug up. I did mix peat in the soil, but the melons never grew. The plants grew very well, they just never produced fruit. I finally stopped weeding (does this story sound familiar?) and the grass again took over my small patch. Imagine my surprise when I looked at the patch later in the summer. I had four or five small melons on the vine. They never grew big enough to eat but their presence was encouraging. I planted a watermelon and cantaloupe today. I hope they grow.
THOUGHTS: For the man who found me at the pool, getting the crops in was more important than where I came from. The movie “McFarland” is based around the farm workers living in a small California town and depicts the harsh working conditions faced daily in the fields. While the workers were not migrants, others harvesting crops in the San Joaquin Valley are. While many of the migrant workers are American citizens or have “green cards” allowing them to work, others are not documented. This is true for much of the lower level agricultural jobs. During this pandemic we have found these harvesters and meat processors to be essential workers. I hope we still feel that way once we move through the crisis. If it is possible, Stay home. Stay safe.