Lousy student jobs

Until this past weekend, picking cotton was just something that I had read about, saw in a movie, or listened to in a song.

It was with a discussion with a friend who grew up in the United States south that really put it into context for me.

We were talking about crappy jobs that we’ve had. Without a doubt, the worst job for me was picking cucumbers. It was done by hand in the heat of the summer. My parents had planted a quarter acre of them and we picked the patch every other night.

Now, cucumbers in the wild are certainly different from those tasty things that you get in jars. They’re covered with little black spikes and they hurt when you start picking them. Until your hands are completely covered with dirt that is. When completely cover, that sort of works like gloves. We picked for Bicks and the cucumbers were rated by size from 1-6. Ones were typically the gherkin-size (about the size of your little finger) and they paid the most. It’s just that it took so many to make any weight at all. On the other end of the scale, sixes are big, like gourds, and are typically chopped up to make relish. While they weigh more, they don’t pay all that much. We sort of determined that threes and fours were the sweet spot.

It was back breaking work because you were on your hands and knees crawling down a row picking them and putting them into a six quart basket. The only relief was taking the basket over and emptying them into a big bag for transit.

My friend claims that it’s nothing compared to picking cotton. It’s not something that grows here in Ontario that I know of. It’s a deep south product and until my discussion, my only experience in “picking cotton” is at the store picking out a summer shirt.

His description was of a similarly hot environment and equally or worse back breaking work. He picked cotton by hand and it sounded like painful work. He had to reach inside the plant which has raser sharp projection and pull out the cotton.

Even watching a Youtube video looks painful and unpleasant. I remember, with cucumbers, one of the painful moments was getting stuck under the fingernail. It’s a job reality here too.

I also learned that there are two concepts. One – you pick the actual cotton. Two – you pick the cotton boll and the cotton is extracted after the fact. There’s a distinction between cotton picking and cotton pulling. I did not know that.

Aw, the jobs of days gone by. There’s a modern approach.

But, back in our day, these were two backbreaking jobs.

How about you? Did you have a particularly tough job as a child that you could share with us?

4 thoughts on “Lousy student jobs

  1. When I was 9 and 10, my sisters and I picked Mustard weeds out of the fields . These weeds grew bigger than us and had root systems that did not give up without a fight. You couldn’t leave the root if the plant broke off, so you would then dig it out of the clay soil that had already baked hard in the July heat. The weed could not be left in the field to re seed, so you packed it in old feed bags and dragged it back up to the road end of the field to be burned. It was July, so it was hot and we were not exactly muscle bound tough. Although we sure had some muscles by the end of a few weeks of this job! Seeing a mustard weed still gives me Back spasms!

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  2. When I was in elementary school I worked for my dad on the farm – hoeing weeds in the bean fields and picking up rocks. So many rocks. In high school, I got a summer job detasseling corn. A large group of teenaged girls would get picked up by a school bus in town and then driven to a field to walk along the corn rows and pull the tassels out of the corn so it could be pollinated by one of the other plants. It was hot, dirty, and boring but we had fun chatting as we walked down the rows and listening to music at lunch. In four or five weeks of detasseling I could make as much money as my friends who spent the whole summer babysitting. When I started we made $2/hour; $3/hour on Sunday! I did that for three summers and then ‘graduated’ to leading a summer recreation program for kids.

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  3. This brings back memories — not good ones! I’m amazed at the details you remember from doing it yourself as a child. Up until now I think I’ve repressed them (and those of my raspberry picking days)…

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  4. The worst (but most lucrative) job any of my friends in high school did was picking tobacco in the fields of Southwestern Ontario. Sweaty, back-breaking because of the bending, and reasonably toxic….who wouldn’t want that job?

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