Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • Summer meant work for us -- hard work that left us tired at the end of the day, grateful for sleep.

    Dad had commercial orchards: peaches, pears, plums, apples ... cherries.

    Oxhearts, they were called, and they were the deep purple of blood, huge, with flawless skins and a taste so sweet it was sinful.

    We got a few weeks of relaxation after school ended, and then we plunged into cherry season. No time for anything else, no; the crop meant money for the winter. If the crop was good, prices went down because everyone had a good crop. We eyed the skies like meteorologists. Too much rain? Too much sun? Heat after a hard rain meant long raw cracks in the cherries, which made them rot fast. Too little rain meant tiny cherries; not enough sun and they wouldn't be sweet.

    So at the end of June and the beginning of July, we hired boys and men to pick the cherries. Then the women dumped them on a slanted table, picked out the "problem" cherries, and packed the rest in 10-pound boxes. (People who canned always wanted the "problem" cherries -- they could cut away the bad part and use the rest.)

    And we ate. We ate until our lips, teeth, and tongue were blue, and then we ate some more.

    We had favorite customers and customers we hated to see arrive, customers who would stand and talk for hours and ones who didn't want to get out of their cars.

    We learned to shoot cherry pits at an early age. (With all due modesty, I was the best -- not even the boys had such an accurate aim. [She polishes her fingernails on her T-shirt.]) We learned to run the cherry pitter and we packed 30-pound cans of pitted cherries for local bakeries. (I could carry three at once, one stacked on top of another.)

    The hours were long and I remember my feet hurting like wildfire from standing on the cement most of the day. I remember grumbling about not being able to read because I was sorting cherries (said with all the disdain of a 15-year-old). I remember wishing we were wealthy and could spend the summer lounging by the pool.

    But mostly I remember dancing in the rain because my aunt told us that rain made you pretty (it didn't), driving the tractor and wagon to the orchard to get a glimpse of Gorgeous Andy (and bring back the full buckets -- but who cared about full buckets when there was Andy to look at?).

    I remember the customer who complained about price (we were charging 50 cents a pound then -- oh, Daddy, they sell for $3 a pint now) and told Dad he should be glad he lived where the cherries just grew. Dad replied, "Yes, and God planted them in such nice straight rows, too."

    I remember at age 14 standing up to three large, rough-looking migrant workers (the ones who were always getting into knife fights at the camps) who came in while Dad and my uncle were away to demand more money. I told them we paid everyone the same, and if they didn't like it, they'd better leave.

    One looked at me and said, deep and dangerous, "What would your father say to that, Missy?"

    "He'd tell you the same thing," I said. "Now go." And they did.

    (At that point, my mother almost had heart failure. Then she said her favorite refrain, "Oh, you are just like your father.")

    It was paradise.

    We didn't know.

Better browser, please.

To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.