Koreans aren’t allowed by law to work as teenagers. However, many Americans do. today, when my Korean son in law learned that I began working when I was in middle school, he asked me about it. When I told him he laughed and said, “You really need to put that on your blog!” Okay, I will tell you about my first job. It was at Pilchuck Berry Farm in Washington State, in the U. S.
When summer came, lots of teenagers worked at Pilchuck Berry Farm. They sent yellow school buses to get us all summer and took us to the berry farm to pick berries. We started at the beginning of the summer picking strawberries, then later on in the summer, we picked raspberries. If we were old enough, they let us pick cucumbers at the end of the summer, but I wasn’t old enough for cucumbers.
At night, we put our cans of soda pop in the freezer overnight because there was no refrigerator at the berry field, and we knew we would walk something cold to drink. If you have ever heard of Fresca, I drank a lot of Fresca back then. It was like a tart Sprite. It was hot outside. We took our lunches in brown papers bags and wore our old clothes, usually blue jean cut off shorts, and old shirt, and tennis shoes. We picked strawberries all day long in the hot sun, row after row. When we were done with our row, we had to call a grown up, a row boss. The row boss would check our row and make sure we got all the berries off that row so we could go on to the next row. As we worked, radios played, and we listened to music. We heard songs like “Strawberry fields forever” by the Beatles or “The Joker went Wild,” etc.
We picked our berries into boxes that went into flats, and we got 75 cents a flat. I was a fast picker, so I got at least 6 1/2 flats a day. When we were done with a flat, we took them to the docks and let them punch our cards. We were paid according to what was on our cards. I picked so fast that I easily got 6 1/2 flats a day and sometimes more. They decided to reward me for picking so fast and put me on the docks stacking the flats. It was a lot easier than picking berries because I could sit and wait for the others to get done with their flats and bring them to me. They punched 6 1/2 flats a day into my card for stacking the flats. They used a hole punch to punch holes into our cards.
We picked raspberries too.
The teenagers were crazy! Everyone was out there not only working, but having fun. They got into berry fights. It got really bad if someone smashed the berries before the threw them. You got red spots all over youth clothes. Your hands were always stained with red berry juice, and we had to soak our hands in bleach water at night to get them white again. If your really wanted to get someone good, you smashed a bunch of berries in your hand and walked up to talk to them and dolloped that bunch of smashed berried on their back. A bunch of kids got crazy once in the strawberry field and decided to turn an outhouse over.
They weren’t the only ones doing crazy things, but no one knew about my crazy things. When raspberry season came, I was still picking as fast as ever, and so was my friend, Diane. We were all picking in the fields up closer to the road, but there were fields further in the valley next to the river where the berries were bigger. It was shadier there too. They kept the rest of the kids in the fields close to the road with the row bosses and sent Diane and I to the fields by the river alone thinking we were fast pickers and very responsible, so they would let us reap the benefits of the big berries down by the river. We were still kids. They told us we weren’t allowed to go into the river, but we saw that river and wanted to swim. It was hot outside, and we loved to swim. Diane and I went swimming in our clothes, but our bosses never knew.
My hand got stung by a bee once down by the river when I was raspberry picking. It swelled so big it looked like a fat baby’s hand, It seems to me that my brother, Charlie, got stung by a bee down there once too.
That bridge was pretty high, but I didn’t care. I jumped off and swam in the deep water. It was fun! I was a real athlete. I could even flip across the room back then. I still swim, but I don’t jump off bridges or flip across the room any more.
At the end of the summer, we had a big party down by the river. We were allowed to swim then, and we all swam in our clothes. We grabbed the row bosses and threw them in the river. There was a big bridge over the river, and we were jumping off the bridge into the river. Needless to say, I was a very good swimmer and had lots of guts. That bridge was really high, and we hit the water hard! Not everyone was brave enough to do it, but I was crazy, and there was no bridge too high for me.
Well, this was my first job. I had a job in high school too, but by that time, we were living in Oklahoma. I told my Korean son in law that story too, and he enjoyed hearing about my experience as a waitress too. American kids are allowed to hold jobs, but Korean kids aren’t. My dad pushed the idea of us working because he wanted us to learn responsibility. We learned to work and make money, but we were still kids, and we were still playing and having a good time. I didn’t make much money, but for a short time, I had spending money. My money was gone too fast!