My first try at gainful employment (other than babysitting like most of my peers) was when I was fifteen and detasseled corn. We lived in a town in Illinois, but you didn't have to go very far to be in serious farm country.
I think detasseling corn was the hardest work I've ever done. (Well, as a kid anyway.)
There were about fifty of us teenage girls who gathered in a city park by six o'clock every morning. (Where were those child labor laws?!) We were loaded into a semi-truck trailer that was outfitted with bench seats on either side and another double set of seats running down the middle.
We were then trucked to a specific farm for the day where we started working down the rows of corn that were invariably dripping with dew at that time of morning. About the time we were soaked from head to toe, the temperature would begin to climb into the nearly unbearable range. We had to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts or our skin would get cut up by the leaves on the corn stalks.
I have a not-so-fond memory of some of those corn rows going on for an eternity!
A lunch break was taken around noon time. Most days we spread out under trees on the lawn of the farmer's house and, if we were lucky, were offered all the cold, clear water we could drink from a well with a hand pump on it.
We all brought our lunch and the food had to be something that wouldn't spoil in the heat as our lunch bags sat in the trailer of the truck from morning until lunch time. Some of the girls had insulated bags they carried their food in, but those were the "older" (17 and 18 year olds), more experienced ones who came back to detassel corn year after year.
After a short lunch and rest period, we dragged ourselves back out into the field and worked for another three or four hours.
When finished for the day, we climbed back into the semi-truck to be returned to the park. About half of the girls were African-American and many days on the truck ride home, they would start singing. And, boy howdy, did some of them have amazing voices.
I lived about seven blocks from the park, but if I remember correctly, some of the girls walked the two blocks down into town and caught a bus home because they lived at a much farther distance.
My walk home each night almost made me sweatier, if that was possible, so the first thing I did upon reaching home was to strip off my dirty clothes (and they did get dirty each day) and take a cool shower.
Hard to believe, I know, but we were paid 35 cents an hour. If we worked the whole detasseling season without missing a single day, we got retroactive pay of an extra 15 cents an hour. Wow, what an incentive! I didn't make it.
I detasseled corn only that one summer because the next year I was sixteen and old enough to get a "real" job which was as a clerk in a small two-story department store in our town.
It was decidedly easier, cooler and cleaner than detasseling corn. Still, for some inexplicable reason, I'm very glad I worked in those corn fields the summer I was fifteen.
I'd love to hear about your first job experiences. Please do tell all!
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