You may not know this, but I have not always led the glamorous life that I do now. My very first job, in fact, demanded early morning risings, long hours, and repetitive and sometimes back-breaking labor, all with little respect and fairly low wages (on second thought, this is sounding oh, so familiar to my current job as a mother). But at the time, I was determined to break out from under the thumb of my parents who had only to wave a dollar bill in front of my face and I would come running like Pavlov’s dogs to vacuum the van, wash all the windows in the house, mow the lawn, or spend my Friday evening corralling my 5 younger siblings. They were slave drivers and I was cheap labor.
But no more. The word on the street (a.k.a. the seventh grade hallway) was that Nielsen’s Fruit Stand was hiring cherry sorters and said cherry sorters only had to be twelve years old. The joy of it! Of course, they weren’t hiring just anybody. A Nielsen cherry sorter had to report to duty at 6 a.m. sharp, work until 2 p.m. in the large shed in the orchard, take only a 30 min lunch and two 10 min breaks, and, most of all, a Nielsen cherry sorter had to be hired by old, stone-faced Mr. Nielsen himself.
My mom drove me to Nielsen’s the next afternoon. I was sure all of the sorting jobs would be gone—given to the kids who had come the day before or to Mr. Nielsen’s many grandchildren who had an automatic “in” into the cherry world, but nonetheless, I approached him with the cool and confidence I knew I would need in those long days as a cherry sorter, especially when dealing with my more difficult coworkers—the cherry pickers. I instructed my mom to inspect the produce while I handled the situation. “Mr. Nielsen, sir,” I said, “I’m interested in summer work as a cherry sorter.” He looked up from the register, and, being the astute judge of character that he was, he hired me on the spot.
Luckily (for my parents, anyway), Krista, my friend up the street, and her coolest of cool, sixteen-year-old sister Shalese were also those who had made the cut into the cherry sorting world. Shalese agreed to drive us to and from work every day.
That first day, I woke up, eager to begin my first paid job and to reap the monetary rewards. I had dreamt of what I would do with my money—the Guess jeans that I would buy, the Esprit shirts. Thanks to cherry sorting, I would be known throughout the junior high as a fashion diva. Shalese and Krista pulled up right on time in Shalese’s beat-up Dodge hatchback. I climbed in and we did what we would do every morning for the next month. We sped down Brigham City’s main street with the windows down, singing at the top of our lungs along with Neil, “I’d much rather be . . . forever in blue jeans.”
Needless to say, cherry sorting was not anywhere near fun. In fact, I hated it like I had never hated anything before. The shed was dark and hot, the cherries were disgusting (at least the ones I had to pick out), and my legs and eyes hurt after standing and focusing for so long. But of all the many different jobs I have been privileged to work so far in my life, I remember that one the most—not just my hatred for it, but also the satisfaction of sticking it out, of knowing that I earned my check and that I could do hard things. But to this day, I will not eat cherries.
Tell me about your most memorable job or your most valuable job. What made it memorable or valuable? Could it have turned out differently?
(Photo by Matthew Hirsch.)