All aboard the family farm tomato picker

It was 7 AM on a sunny summer day when I called my kids downstairs from their rooms for a delicious, hot breakfast of spicy sausage gravy over biscuits. They woofed it down, but warily.

“What do you want from us?” asked my son, sending his third biscuit swimming in a whirlpool of seasoned sauce. “It’s got to be something pretty bad for you to cook us this kind of a workin’ man’s breakfast over summer break.”

I explained that “workin’” was the operative word in his question. I was feeding them a hearty breakfast because I had no idea when they’d next eat, as they were field-bound for the family farm’s tomato picking.

“I don’t want to go,” he flat-out responded. “I hate everything about that job.” Like a good counselor, I mirrored his feelings and acknowledged his reluctance.

“I hear you saying that you don’t find tomato picking especially enjoyable and don’t want to participate,” I summarized. He nodded, pleased I seemed able to understood his position. But then I got real.

“Apparently, you’ve confused me with someone who gives a darn! We are all going to ride that picker until the cows come home – however long it takes to get the job done and meet today’s semi-load quota,” I said. To say otherwise would violate the unwritten parental code of manipulative force.

Actually, I completely understand his reluctance. Riding the Pik Rite, sorting thousands of tomatoes on the fast-moving conveyor belt is a highly-intensive activity requiring urgency akin to digging out a friend who has been buried alive on a ski slope by an avalanche. No matter how fast and hard you work, it’s never quick enough.

My daughter chose a different tack with her rig-riding refusal, “I don’t need the money,” she claimed. She had just gotten paid handsomely for helping someone clean out a basement. In the absence of ongoing, adult-strength monthly bills, the momentary monetary clink of cold, hard cash in her pocket rendered her deaf to all future opportunities. I was forced to swab her senses with a reality-cleaning Q-Tip.

“Don’t need the money?!” I demanded. “You are going to need it when I refuse to use my hard-earned dollars to buy school clothes for your lazy (this scenario had transpired before I had purchased anything) . . . ” To my surprise, my son, who is usually the first to pounce on his sister, rose to her defense.

“You’re bluffing,” he said. “We don’t have to do anything we don’t want to do.”

“Fair enough,” I told them. “Then I’m also claiming the right to not have to do anything I don’t want to do, including wasting my time and gas to transport you to your activities. If you can’t be bothered to ride the rig, I can’t be bothered to haul you. Thanks for alleviating me of unwanted parental responsibilities.”

“What time do we have to be there?” my son asked resignedly.

“We’re all heading there at 8:30 AM,” I informed. “And I’ll be working alongside you.” Instead of praising my assistance, both kids groaned.

“I hate you,” my daughter said. “You’re stupid and stink (not her actual word) at sorting tomatoes. I don’t want to work next to you ‘cause I’ll have to work harder to compensate.” She had a point. I possess neither speed, nor accuracy on the Pik Rite. Maybe because I try too hard.

Sorting the bad and the ugly from the good tomatoes requires a uniquely-vague focus. You have to pay attention, but not too much attention or you’ll get so hung up on one tomato that scores of other bad ones slip by, unnoticed. Like the items on my grocery list.

Ironically, I’d put tomatoes on my grocery list that week. I had absent-mindedly turned down free ones at church and forgotten I would be sorting multiple acres of tomatoes. Ended up paying top dollar for something I could have gotten for free. Duh!

I thought silently that my kids might be right about my stupidity, but instead said, “Get in the car. The farm needs you and you need money. So just shut up and sort.” We did. Several feet apart.


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