A couple of days ago, I mentioned I hadn’t been blogging much because I’d been tearing through the jungle like a wild animal. Yeah right, you say. Anyone who reads my blog or comments probably knows I’m from IL, and we have no jungles here. Yet if you’ve ever been, you’ve no doubt seen a ton of dense expanses of foliage commonly known as cornfields.
So I must have been tearing up a cornfield, but why? To answer this question, dig deep back into the recesses of your mind and pull out the “Hardest Summer Jobs Ever” folder. Some of you might have a little file marked “detasseling” in there from way back in high school or even before. That’s where this whole story starts.
All during high school, I begged my parents to let me detassel corn. I pictured walking through the fields on a sunny day popping cute little tassels off cornstalks just as though they were blackberries. Shouldn’t I have known it was harder than that by the exhausted looks on my detasseling friends’ faces? In either case, it all came down to one thing: money. They were getting paid for their efforts, and I wanted a piece of the pie. It was bad enough when I only wanted money, but this year, fresh out of college and in desperate need of employment, I called up the crew boss and asked if I could be on the team. He said yes, if only for a few days. I could stand anything for a few days, right? We’ll see.
Day 1 – It’s storming for the first half of the day. Lightning comes within 30 or 40 yards of us. We run for cover. The rest of the day is spent wading in ankle-deep mud while the temperature gradually rises to 90 pulling stiff, wet tassels all the way. If I don’t have any biceps, why are they hurting?
Day 2 – Comforted by the thought of a supposedly pre-machine detassled field, I board the bus once again. No wonder this job hasn’t been taken over by machines yet, because they miss about 75 percent of their intended targets. Did I mention it’s pouring rain again? The whole time at that. Even boots won’t keep it out. Finally, quitting time comes, and only then does the sun start to show its face. I’m pretty sure there are more than 15 people in this 15 passenger van. I’m not sure the breaks are reliable.
Day 3 – Sunday! Day of rest? No! So many people are absent that it’s crucial to have all hands on deck. Faster! Faster! The team leaders agree to help us slow folks, but then they ask us to run up. Fine you say, run through the corn, what’s the big deal? Think about it this way: if you’ve ever had a rodeo with an overgrown flower bed, you know even little grass can leave its share of cuts and scrapes. Now imagine if that grass were five feet tall and had a dozen or so sharp blades hanging off every stalk. Corn’s vicious! It doesn’t spare hands, faces, legs, or even eyeballs. Food is attacking me! I feel like the Swedish Chef.
Day 4 – Starts out as child’s play next to the first three. It’s dry, and we’re on a “buggy” looking for tassels someone else may have missed. The machine promptly breaks down, putting the farmer in a foul mood. Anyone who misses a tassel from then on out is through, so we go slow and steady on foot as temperatures climb toward 90. Half of the crew isn’t needed tomorrow. One guess who’s staying home.
In a way, I feel stupid for trying this job. I worked slower and complained more than some of the 12-year old he-men who’d probably never worked for pay before but were eager to prove themselves nonetheless. I earned little money and took a substantial risk of injury. Yet I also have something else: a newfound physical determination that never existed before. It will be something to tell my grandchildren someday when they ask me how I managed during what may yet go down in history as the second Depression. Most importantly, it gave me an even stronger incentive to look for long-term work!