Daddy had seen the world – orphaned at 10, he bummed around the Northeast from one older sister’s home to another, in cities like
So that summer we were suddenly cast out into the wilderness. We rented the back half of a Victorian mansion next to the Catholic church. And the landlord’s son greeted me with “Want to go picking?” Rready for anything, I said “Sure.”
Early next morning, a big farm truck pulled up in the driveway. My new friend (could his name have been Wilbur?) helped me climb in back and hang on to the wooden slats that formed the side walls, as the truck racketed around the village picking up kids.
Half an hour later we pulled into the lane at the Fullager farm and jumped down. I was equipped with a wooden quart basket that tied around my waist and another empty basket that fit into it. Then, as the sun beat down, we were turned loose in the raspberry patch. Homer’s son patrolled the rows, collecting full baskets and punching holes in the cardboard tags we wore on strings around our necks. More than three-quarters of a century later, I still have my tag. On the back is Mrs. Fullager's reckoning at the end of the day? end of the week? end of the harvest? I think it was 53 quarts at 3 cents each, and 8 quarts at 4 cents. Black raspberries paid more, because they scratched your hands. At any rate, it came to $1.91. First money I ever earned. It looked like a lot to me -- and it was. Buying equivalent today (I just looked it up) $32.22. Not bad for a 12-year-old's first job.
When the raspberry harvest was in, before the truck took us home one last time, Mrs. Fullager invited all of us into her big sunny kitchen, and treated us to – well, I remember two kinds of cake, and there must have been lemonade. Years later, in more than one British movie, I saw rousing scenes of the traditional Harvest Home Celebration a Landlord would host for his workers. I’ll bet her hospitality was a direct echo of that.