January 13th…“SHARE ONE OF THE WAYS YOU EARNED MONEY AS A TEENAGER IN YOUR NEW HOMETOWN OF BATTLE GROUND, WASHINGTON.”
The ghastly clatter-banging of an old-fashioned alarm clock jolted shock-waves into my teenage ears. I had been happily locked in a melatonin-laced trance of hormonal hibernation when that hideous contraption had the gall to shock me into a 4:30AM reality of being awake……..like it or NOT! And, as if adding salt to the wound of this morning calamity, I should have been able to sleep in for I was now out of school for Summer Vacation. Why in the world would a teenager ever want to get up at this inhuman hour?? The answer? Making some money by picking strawberries. Reluctantly, I groggily swung my young legs out of the bed and managed to get dressed. The heady aroma of great cooking led me to our family kitchen where I proceeded to scarf down some of Mom’s yummy breakfast while she made me a sack lunch for that day’s work in the fields.
The destination for my hopeful monetary multiplicity was at least 20 miles to the north of our town of Battle Ground, Washington. Being a teenager under the age of 16, and unable to drive a car yet, I wasn’t about to walk that kind of distance. Thankfully, I wouldn’t have to. I was about to become a “soldier” in the Summertime “army” of an industrious, agricultural family by the last name of Tsugawa. Over their many years of farming, the Tsugawa Berry Farm had acquired a fleet of old school buses that were dispersed each morning to various embarkation points around Clark County. In a public relations campaign, George Tsugawa published berry bus schedules in many of the county’s newspapers so potential perky picker people (and their picker people parents) could know of and catch one of the berry buses for the trip up north to the Woodland, Washington flat lands near the Columbia River. To the end of Hawthorne Street (now NW 9th St.) I hiked and caught the 6:00am bus ride north.
After picking up a bus load of other pickers along the way, our old, squeaking, yellow-metal “banana” rolled into the strawberry fields and we filed out for a berry back-breaking day. Yes, even though we possessed the supple bodies of young teenagers, in those days, we had to bend over for hours on end to reach the low-lying rows of the berry crop as we picked a gazillion strawberries. Filing past the Field Boss, we “soldiers” were instructed to pick up an empty “flat” (shallow wood or plastic tray). Inside each flat were 12 empty “hallocks” (small containers that held about a pint each of strawberries). The goal for each of us was to pick those tasty, red strawberries and fill as many flats as possible each day. Memories become foggy over the years, but I seem to recall that we each had a punch card with our names on it. For each full flat of berries, the Field Boss would use a paper punch to cut a number out from around the rim of the card. It may have been less payment than I think, but I gather that we were paid about $1.25 for each flat of berries picked.
Alright, alright, I’ll confess! Earning Summer spending money, picking berries, wasn’t the only reason that I allowed that alarm clock to assault my ears at “Oh Dark Thirty” each morning. Being a twitterpated teenager and happily infected with the “love bug”, my main reason for picking berries was to be close to my High School girlfriend, Derra Joan Abernathy. With both of us being too young for a driver’s license, we felt it was a way for us not to be separated for the entire Summer. Derra rolled in each morning on one of the berry buses that serviced the south-central areas of the county. Together in “our row”, we could chat the day away (and steal a kiss or two) while we picked strawberries and enjoyed the fellowship of other “Tigers” from Battle Ground High School that worked in those fields, too.
With the playful sprightliness of young people “in love”, our work times, for Derra and myself, sometimes evolved into teasing tussles of happy heckling of each other. Boredom, plus a little hunger would set in during the days and we’d end up eating some of the strawberries that should have gone into our picking flat. On one such occasion, Derra had picked this monstrous strawberry and had it up towards her mouth to eat it. I quickly grabbed that red, bulbous berry and smashed it all over her chin. Squeals of laughter erupted between us as we enjoyed the moment. The cute result of this “smashing” incident was that Derra’s chin was stained a pretty pink color for the rest of that day. As we boarded our respective buses for the trip home that day, I bequeathed my young lady with the new nickname…..PINKY!! In loving retaliation, the nickname “DIMPLES” was given to this strawberry-picking Norwegian Farmer’s Son. 😉