Childhood and young adulthood traumas are pivotal times, when our life view is altered permanently or our values and purpose are challenged. That is when we take our pain to the writers’ table and do our most creative bleeding. And so it was for a good friend.
After reading his account of a fire that killed his co-workers following a carefree teen summer working together, I realized the camaraderie established in close quarters at that age has a tremendous affect on us.
My first summer job was not traumatic but an introduction to the world of work, office politics—although there was no office, just open fields.
It was 1954, my first 40-hour a week job, completely removed from parental supervision. I applied for and received my Social Security card. Unlike my driver’s license that the examiner warned me not to use for driving because I was so uncoordinated, my Social Security card came with no strings except not to lose it. I didn’t.
The job included pollinating and emasculating tomatoes at the Burpee Seed trial gardens at Fordhook Farms in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The property was not far from what was known locally as Farm School, but officially as the National Agricultural College, where Jonas Salk discovered the vaccine to eradicate polio. Yes, that Fordhook family farm, as in the Lima beans. Among my fellow “farm workers,” college students, one botanist and several European students studying America’s version of crop rotation and modern agriculture, were old church friends and a few new faces.
My day began before seven, not a big strain as my dad and I were early risers year-round. Each morning, he went to the kitchen ahead of me and had breakfast ready. We shared burnt toast and eggs and a pot of coffee. He even packed my lunch, then dropped me off to work in the sun until five. No one knew about ozone layers, but determined not to burn, I had spent two weeks in early June at the local pool accumulating a tan of protection. I dressed for work in my uncle’s old long-sleeved dress shirt, shorts and penny loafers. Twenty of us carried our box crates to the tiered field, turned them upside down and sat. As we moved from row to row, we pulled the boxes after us.
Naturally, for such a well-educated group boredom was a given. After all, how much mental energy does it take to pull off three green leaves from a tomato blossom and dab the pistil with a paintbrush of pollen, meant to create the newest variety: Big Boy tomatoes.
Long before the advent of Trivial Pursuit, we played word games such as Guess This and What would you do if?. As the heat rose, each person made up a set of 20 questions. Mine centered on ballet and period furniture. But of all the games the most fun was “My Aunt Bessie likes…?” Eventually, even the new people figured out what Aunt Bessie liked. She liked Mississippi but hated Ohio. She liked cuddling, but hated sex, and so on. As each person figured it out, they’d shout, “I got it.” Later, they’d whisper the code to our supervisor. Despite the fact we played every day, shouting our answers from field to field, when we added a new employee, we acted out the game until they understood the trick of uncovering Aunt Bessie’s preferences.
The days went swiftly. Hot as we were, dark skinned as we became, wet as the irrigation system turned on us when the temperature reached 95-degrees made us, we had fun. Arriving home, our cleanup ringed our parent’s bathtubs green, oily with chlorophyll, and hard to scour. It was a magical summer.
When I remember it with such pleasure and hear how my friend’s summer ended with his being the only survivor of a horrible hotel fire in the Catskills—he lost 14 of his comrades—it amazes me that I never mentioned this period of my life in my writings. Those bonds are forever. His were turned to ashes. He’s a brilliant writer because of it, but he’s still grieving and asking in everything he writes “Why me? Why did I survive?”
About the Author: Julie Eberhart Painter is the Champagne Books author of Mortal Coil, Tangled Web and the 2011 Book of the Year, Kill Fee. The sequel, Medium Rare releases in December 2012.
January 2013, Daughters of the Sea releases from MuseItUp Publishing. Visit Julie’s Web site at www.books-jepainter.com
A cosy fast-paced romp through the world of duplicate bridge as played by the senior citizens in a retirement village in central Florida. While the club faces murder and reality, Penny survives threats, a complete change in lifestyle, and a secret that breaks her heart
Half page teaser:
When Penny walked into the law offices of Hewett, Martin and Smythe, she was especially glad that she’d dressed up. The odour of leather was strong. The lobby had high ceilings and carpet so soft she almost turned her ankle. It was as if soundproofing were a priority. Somehow it put her at ease—slowed her down.
She gave her name to the secretary-receptionist and sat on a nearby leather chair. A few minutes later, a nice looking gentleman, early thirties, light brown hair—five foot-seven or so—walked into the room and held out his hand. “Ms. Olsen, I'm Cole Martin, your uncle's attorney. Please step this way.”
Penny followed along the hallway behind him. She couldn’t help noticing that he moved like a dancer with a marble in his sock. This gave a hitch to his otherwise graceful gait. Penny watched, fascinated by the rhythm. She wouldn't mind dancing with him. Most men were too tall for her. She'd always ended an evening of dancing with a “broken” neck. Ashamed, she thought, my uncle hasn’t been dead two days and I'm thinking carnal thoughts about his attorney.