The pre-dawn coolness of summer breezes evokes memories of long ago. Waiting along the gravel shoulder of Minkler Road for the berry or cucumber bus to pick us up for another day under the hot blazing sun picking strawberries or buckets full of perfect cukes. Bicycles well-hidden in the field at the corner of Fruitdale Road. The musty, rattling bus ride to the far fetched fields. The sight of Mr. Garcia with his casted arm assigning rows to each kid, mine the opposite end of the same row as my brother. The wet feeling of dew covered berry leaves and the vivid smell of damp earth in the sunrise. Brown paper bag lunches of bologna sandwiches and Fritos corn chips and tiny cone shaped cups of water drained from the orange water jug spout. The mid day heat beating down as we crawled along row after row filling our yellow flats with ripened (or even over-ripened) berries just to get another filled. Or the back breaking walk down the row of prickly cucumber vines throwing the prickly cukes quickly into another white five-gallon bucket, the steel wire handle clanking over and over as we made our way down the row. Or the damp drizzly days with mud caked fingers stiffened like the knees of your jeans. Slugs hidden beneath the berry leaves feasting on your work.
The chatter of the migrant workers Spanish and the Mexican boys who made a point of carrying our buckets for us because we were “muchacha Bonita.” The radios playing the latest hits — Peter Frampton or Three Dig Night, or Rolling Stones. The news that Elvis died pouring a blanket of sorrow as some sat upon their cuke buckets in mourning.
The punch cards to keep track of our progress stained with dirty sticky fingerprints. The outhouse and another sip of cool water.
Sherry Black racing down the row at a furious pace as Berry fights erupted when the boys got bored or too sassy. The nervous feeling of getting your row checked and getting sent down to repeat the same row because your tired little body wasn’t paying attention. Watching cars go down the nearby highway and counting the white ones to pass the time. The Geertsma boys carrying buckets because they were kind enough to realize your eight year old body couldn’t handle the task.
The swoop and rise of the crop duster covering nearby fields with their pungent load of pesticides or fertilizers.
The long awaited whistle to announce the end of picking for the day brings relief to my weary, dirt covered berry stained and sweaty body and I head quickly to the bus to get a front seat so I don’t get sick on the way home.
Soaking our hands in bleach water to remove the deeply set stains and cleaning our dirt filled fingernails. Taking out our dirty pony tails and watching the crud float around us in the bathtub.
Memories of my childhood in the Skagit Valley.