My First Job

By Sherrie Kenyon

I was lucky to have a big sister.  I could tag along and do the big kid things with her.  It started when I was 9.  We would ride our bikes out South Bay Road in Olympia, about 5 miles, to the strawberry patches.  I wouldn’t have been able to go alone, but being escorted by Diane made it okay.

Every morning we arrived in our grubby jeans, with a sack lunch and ready to work.  We were given a crate holding 12 boxes and assigned a row.  I learned quickly to watch the person who was on the other side of my row.  It was always a challenge to stay ahead of that person because they would reach over and get the biggest strawberries on my side.

Then the row boss would come along to check my row.  I don’t know how they would always come up with a hand full of berries out of the area I had already picked.

The full crate was carried to the shack where they punched my card and sent me back with an empty crate to pick more. I quickly learned that I needed to clearly mark my place in the row before I left, or I’d never figure out where I was.

The bushes were always wet with dew first thing in the morning and before long my fingers began to wrinkle, the knees on my pants were caked with mud and I would begin to feel quite miserable. But the highlight of the day was when we were done and checked out at the shack.  We were paid every day for what we picked, so I always felt rich coming home with 45 or 50 cents in my pocket.

When I turned 12, the Cannery, where my Mother and Father both worked, closed. I knew there was some monetary tension, so I announced to my parents that I would buy all of my new school clothes that year.  To do that, I hooked up with the bus to Centralia Fruit Farms.  This was a big business, so they had a school bus arrive daily at my school.  It left at 7 a.m., so I was up very early to pack my lunch and ride my bike to the school.  It was a long bus ride to the fields, and each day we seemed to be at a different spot for picking.  The strawberry fields seemed endless.  I was left alone to pick the berries from my row, so I went to work straddling the bushes and digging through them for the ripe berries.  Pay was much higher here and I could usually make from $3 to $5 a day.

The days were long and many times I wore out before the bus was ready to leave about 4 p.m. The bus ride was restful before I had to ride my bike up the hill to home just in time for dinner.

The strawberry season only lasted about a month, so then I’d jump into picking raspberries.  I never liked that job.  Raspberries are very small and take longer to fill a box and you had to reach into the raspberry bushes, getting wet up to your armpit to get to the berries.

That summer I did buy all of my own school clothes, except the coat, which my parents bought.  I picked berries for two summers before I decided to find other employment.  It became part of my life to work and pay my own way from the time I was 12 years old.