Picking Cherries – 2

…continued from Picking Cherries – 1 post:

The cherry trees were laid out in straight lines, all about the same height – I’d guess about 12 feet.  They were heavy with ripe red cherries – the sour kind. What a bummer, there would be no snacking.

Everyone was given a ladder, a metal pail about the size of a mop bucket, a large wooden crate and a belt like thingy to wear around the waist and  hang the pail on.  Each person was assigned a row of trees to strip.  The picking process was simple – start at the bottom of the tree, work around until all the cherries you could reach were gathered, then set the ladder to get those higher up, moving the ladder as necessary until the tree was cherry-less – then move on to the next tree.

The cherries grow in clusters.  Working palm up you grabbed a complete cluster with one hand, and as you were dropping those cherries into your pail your other hand was grabbing another cluster.  It was a constant process of one hand rising and grabbing while the other was lowering and emptying. When your pail was full you emptied it into the crate.  When the crate became full you hauled it off to a central area where a family member weighed it and put it onto a flatbed truck, and gave you a new crate to fill.

Naturally, as the pail filled up it became heavier.  Early in the day that wasn’t a problem.  But as the day wore on it became a big problem.  First there would be discomfort. Then it became painful.  Then it became excruciatingly painful.  Then the pain would become so great that with the pail less than half full you felt that one more cherry would break your back.  And it would still be morning with hours of picking yet to do!

Early in the morning the weather was delightful – temperature in the low 70s and a gentle cool breeze.  But as the Sun rose the temperature rose with it and the breeze disappeared.  By 11 o’clock the temperature was in the mid-90s and stifling.

I have to tell the truth.  By mid-morning on the first day I was ready to retire from my cherry picking career!  I was hot.  I was in pain and  not just in my back.  My arms ached and were so heavy that lifting them to grasp a cluster of cherries was an ordeal.  I was exhausted.  My God!  I was just a city boy.  The hardest physical labor I had ever done was to clear the dishes after dinner and carry them to the kitchen sink!

I so wanted to quit but pride kept me going.  All around me in that orchard others were picking away, seemingly unaffected by the work or the elements.  The migrants were joking and singing – the “elderly” ladies were gossiping and giggling – nobody was moaning and groaning.  I knew that I would have to keep going until I collapsed from the heat, pain and exhaustion, because the humiliation of quitting would be too much.

–  – to be continued in the next post

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