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Cherries and a Microphone: Remembering Summer Jobs

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WIA Cherries & Microphone Converted.jpgThe heat of summer, with its slowly slanting light and harvest smells, transports me to my favorite and craziest set of summer jobs in college. The one that mid-way through, I was sure I was going to die of either caffiene overdose or falling out of a cherry tree. Or maybe, just maybe, both at the same time.


The chaos started innocently. First, I signed up as a broadcasting intern for a local radio station. I needed experience in ag communications and news reporting. The station manager assigned me agriculture, college campus and local government beats. I was in 7th Heaven. The position heralded a bit of glamour and fit my night owl schedule. My story deadline each day was 3am. Plenty of time, I thought, to get my interviews at various meetings and then slip peacefully into the radio booth on campus for writing and recording.


There was only one kink in the situation. What I had acheived in glam was offset by a distinctive lack of paycheck. Unpaid internships are only considered successful when the participant has enough Ramen in their pantry to survive the term. And my pantry was almost empty. Enter Job #2.


One of the local orchards hired crew every summer for the cherry and apricot harvest. As a farm kid, this job was right up my alley. I picked up an application and began filling out each section. When I got to the question asking if I had a problem with heights, I checked the No box. The trees I'd seen there years ago weren't that tall. They certainly didn't seem like Charlie Brown's kite-eating varietals. And surely, the ladders wouldn't be THAT big. Less than 24 hours later, I recieved word of acceptance for the job. I was to be there the next morning around 6:30am. I lived roughly 30 minutes from the orchard. And so it began.


Every morning that summer, I woke in the wee hours to prepare for the day. Dressed in jeans and a fruit stained T-shirt, I headed down the hill to the orchard. Halfway there, I heard my pre-recorded radio stories from the night before with the morning news. Despite my best attempts at messing with the radio sound board, my voice sounded loud and clear across the airwaves with a tone not unlike a 12 year old that broke into the studio. Even my best "radio voice" still seemed to smack of Bonnie Bell lip gloss and brightly colored barettes. Upon arrival at the orchard, I grabbed one of the 8ft orchard ladders, threw the support pole through a tree and climbed to the top. Or almost to the top.  I think the farthest I managed was one rung from top. Usually by then, I was hyperventilating from the horror of falling out. Not because of the potential ER visit but because it would mash all of the pie cherries I'd just picked and, thusly, my paycheck. And I was desperately afraid of heights.


When I began in the orchard, I was the only one working that was not part of the migrant labor group arriving each harvest from South & Central American soils. A college senior in agriculture, I'd had coarsework covering the I9 Employment Forms and hiring processes for migrant labor. I'd taken Spanish in school. But attending class is a lot different from finding yourself in a sea of cherries, with no idea how to efficiently pick them and realizing you are about to be very, very humbled by people willing to help. The farmer assigned me to one of his leads in the orchard - a hardworking man with a smile that could light up a room. Patiently, he showed me how to stablize my ladder in the tall trees and how to pull the cherries without damaging myself or them. Every summer, he worked fields and orchards in the US, sending almost all of the money home to his wife and children in his home country. He lived off far more Ramen meals than I could imagine in my short college term. Gradually, the other workers on the farm began to smile each time I parked my car in the lot, realizing that the short farm kid from Idaho wasn't giving up. To save gas money, I eventually recruited 2 of my cute neighbors in our apartment complex to work with me. Our crew of inexperience grew to 3, carpooling in a tiny hatchback car filled with too much coffee and textbooks in the back seat.


We left the orchard each day around 2pm, dashing North to the apartments. I showered and changed quickly each afternoon into business attire. Each afternoon, off I went with my microphones and recording system to make interviews at Town Hall, catch up with county commissioners and interview a farmer or two. Eventually, one of the commissioners figured out my morning job routine and would invite me to sit in their office, with my tired feet propped up on their coffee table and holding (more) fresh brewed coffee as I peppered him with questions. I loved the interview process and the art of stringing a few key narrative sentences together with sound clips. Even when it meant that I was still working in the college radio station sound booth right up to my 3am deadline, with an orchard waiting for me only a few hours later. My booth neighbored the  DJs running the college station. Often my friend Andy would be working on his side of the partition, with the two of us exchanging knowing glances and sometimes notes held up to the separating glass walls about our crazy summer hours and nearing deadlines.


We all survived. As Fall drew closer, I folded my ladder for the last time and bid farewell to the orchard crew. I do not have words to fully explain the respect and admiration I had for the families working alongside me. They taught me that anything is possible if you are willing to work very very hard and not lose sight of your goals. There were more dreams under those trees than stars that showed in the skies above them. I never did develop a decent radio voice but I walked from the internship with something worth far more than money. And sometimes, I wonder if the new radio intern is rushing to change their clothes and head out with a microphone.





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About the Author
Anne has worked in agriculture since she was old enough to sweep the floor of the family machine shed. She writes about rural & outdoor life from the most remote county seat in the Lower 48, where she and her husband chase two children. Her experience ranges from picking apricots in 100 degree weather and working with Hutterite colonies, to discussing ag trade with the Ambassador of New Zealand and judging cured meats.