Notes March 16
I was 15 years old when I got my first real summer job. My neighbor, living across the street, worked each day at his father’s large orange farm, and each day I rode out with him to do whatever they needed help with that day. The farm soil was good – but about 2 feet down was an impenetrable layer of “hard pan “soil that had to be broken up with a special John Deer Caterpillar tractor pulling a deep digging tool – It was my job to follow along, on foot, with a sledge hammer to break up the clumps of hardpan soil.
Other times I joined a team cutting pieces of wild African orange twigs, which were then rooted in a mist chamber, and then Navel orange stock was grafted onto this superior root system. In addition I used a hoe to cut weeds, I cut their lawn once a week, and I sometimes worked in the young orange tree nursery thinning the buds that were forming on the new young trees. Valley summer weather is often over 100F and the air very dry...
The "farm" where I worked was near the Sierra foothills
The farmer routinely went to Mexico to buy and smuggle pre-Columbian art pieces back into the US…
At the end of the season I was rewarded with the extra bonus of visiting their high mountain cabin in the Sierras… this entire family was one of the most exotic I had ever encountered at that point in my life!
At the age of 16 I went to work, each summer for 4 years, with the Mosquito Control agency. I started as a “sprayer” - my field operator had a region for which he was responsible – he kept track of when farmers irrigated, and then checked their fields for mosquito larvae. When he found them I went to work! I would fill my 4 gallon spray can with a mixture of Parathion spray, pump up a good head of pressure, then walk up and down the fields or pastures covering each bit with my spray. At times the soil underfoot was deep with gooey mud, and at times the sky was a-swarm with biting mosquitos. The job paid well, for a student summer job, and I enjoyed the people that I met.
My driver was a grizzled old "oaky" WWII vet– he had been in the Pacific Islands – and he had such stories to tell! He also loved old style country music and I learned a lot about different singers.
We were spraying in the Central Valley of California – we had in our zone 3 villages make up largely of seasonal fruit pickets – there were the descendants of the people described in John Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’ – living now in mostly tar paper shacks with tin roofs. They were poor, had no skills, often health problems, and social problems. As you zip down Hwy. 99 you will not see them – but a few miles off the road they exist to this day – with a lot of anguish and no safety net.
Each day we sat under a scruffy “China Berry Tree” beside a little country grocery store to eat lunch – over the time I was there I got to know several of the locals and hear their stories. One old “gentleman” was a “wino” ( he got the most alcohol for his money by drinking ‘Thunderbird’), a thief, and he tried to bed every woman in town…and was frequently in the county jail for one offense or another. Still he was a jolly guy and often came to talk to us as we ate lunch. (Also we often shared our lunches with him too…) He often had little items that he had stolen that he tried to sell to us...scissors, a comb, a wrench, a sprinkler... he needed money for his next bottle of 'thunderbird'.
Country Blacksmith shop - Did hot metal repair and replacement of broken farm equipment
In my daily work, there were times I had to wade into chest deep water covered with duckweed, and walk down the middle of still water sloughs to spray… I always watched for snakes!
In my last two years I was a Dairy Drain Operator – I was given my own little green jeep – and a 100-mile day route of dairies to travel and spray drains. This put me in touch with Portuguese, Mexican, and old established Anglo farmers… I remember well the rich and varied sounds and smells of the dairy milking barns. I think it was then that I discovered that every person has a story to tell.
Mosquito abatement work was often exhausting but I learned to see the beauty in the arid flat planes of Central California. I must have open and shut 10000 bailing wire fence gate latches in my coming and going!
After I went away to college I had other summer jobs – but none of them as “educational” as my first jobs. I was a delivery person for a large travel agency in San Francisco and walked throughout the financial district, travelled up and down elevators, in and out of offices… hand delivering new travel tickets to customers. Office secretaries were generally polite but impersonal.
For a short time, one summer, I got a job with a furnace cleaner – my employer was something of a charlatan with a fancy impressive looking suction system mounted on a truck – we made a hole in the side of the heating systems and sucked air for a while – but I don’t think it really did much good… I quit after a week…
I was a guard in the college library, checking each persons bags to make sure they were not stealing books… that was kind of fun…
San Joaquin Valley country road
Teaching is an all-consuming task that I have never worked summers in addition to teaching. Many years I took summer classes or received small grants from the National Science Foundation to take part in special training sessions.
When I reflect on my early forms of "education"... I may have gotten my knowledge in college – but I learned about life, work, and to appreciate a range of people from some of my varied early summer experiences.