It's almost time for strawberries!

Berry picking was the great equalizer


One of my greatest memories, and that which separated South Sounders from others, is berry picking.

Every kid during the 1950’s and 1960's picked berries.  As soon as school let out in June, we’d be at the fields picking strawberries.  The poor kids did it because they needed the money.  The rich kids did it because their parents felt it would teach them the honor of hard work.

Poor kids rode the berry bus.  We’d get up at 5 a.m. walk a mile or more to the bus stop and get on the berry bus.  It would make its way around Thurston County picking up kids along the route.  After an hour or more of riding the bus we’d make it to the fields.  The rich kids were dropped off at the field by their folks, but we all made it.

We’d hide our brown bag lunch in the grass, under something so no one would steal it, and report to the row boss who would assign us a row.

The fields were always damp in the early morning and it was chilly, so we’d start with our jackets on but very shortly, as the summer sun warmed us up and dried out the fields, the jackets would come off, thrown haphazardly behind us.

We’d always try to pick the biggest berries on each plant because they filled up the boxes quicker, but the row boss would always make us go back and redo a row because we left too many small berries.

We’d push our flat in front of us, making small talk with the pickers around us harassing our friends and making eyes at the girls.  Soon we would start throwing rotted berries at each other and this would go on until the row boss make us stop.

After what seemed like hours, it would be time for lunch.  We’d find our brown bags, eat the sandwiches and drink the warm liquid, usually pop of some kind.  .  Often the rich kids had their lunch dropped off by their mothers.  Soon it was back to work.

Each filled flat would be taken to the row boss, who would either accept it, or send us back to fill it up more.  She’d punch our card and we would start all over again.  At the end of the day, we'd collect our pay.

Some of us worked all season, some worked just for the day, but  after what seemed like hours it was time to go.  The berry bus arrived and those of us using the bus would look suffer a long ride back home.  The rich kids were picked up at the field in the family car.

As the season progressed some of us would continue on and pick raspberries and later green beans.  But we all picked strawberries.  It was the great equalizer.

And it remains one of my most vivid memories of growing up here.

Ken Balsley, a member of JOLT's Board of Advisors, writes from his home in Lacey.


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