CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter
When I was growing up, Indiana produced more tomatoes than any other state except California. I don’t know if that is true now, but I do know that when I picked tomatoes one summer, because Mr. Thiemann, our neighbor, had leased his land to tomato growers, it was the hardest job I ever had, and that is saying a lot, when you’ve also spent a summer detasseling corn.
Detasseling corn was miserable. We walked. The corn stalk heads were way above our sun-blasted heads. We had to bend them down to grab the tassel and pull it out without breaking the stalk. The corn leaves cut our arms and hands and faces. The humidity in among those stalks was 100% and the temperature was in the 90s. We were drenched in sweat. Our overseers were profane and mad that we did not work harder. If we got behind, they left us in the field. There was never enough water. We made fifty cents an hour.
With one proviso. If you worked the entire season, from day one to day last, without ever missing, we got an extra 25 cents per hour. That is a big bonus. I needed that money. Only one other boy and I got that bonus. Others worked a day or two and found out how miserable it was and dropped out. I learned I could stand almost anything if I had to.
Even picking tomatoes. From what I’ve said about detasseling, you’d think tomato picking would not be so bad. No corn leaves to cut, or be down in among with 100% humidity, Mr. Heathman’s well immediately accessible for water, bosses who were marginally nicer than the corn masters. Tomatoes, though, grow down low. That kind of work is correctly called “stoop labor.” At the end of a day, I couldn’t straighten up. And I was only fifteen. Imagine what it was like for folks who were 45 or 65, and there were plenty of them.
So as you put a slice of tomato on your Labor Day hamburger, or squirt some ketchup on, and your neighbor talks about how immigrants just want an easy life at someone else’s expense, think about the folks who picked your tomato, and say a word of thanks.
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