On a boy’s journey to manhood there are defining moments. One of mine came on a farm as a twelve year old boy.
Mr. Z—as we affectionately called him—was the farmer. He hired my friends and I for fifteen dollars a day to hoe his beans, pick his tomatoes, feed his turkeys, and in the fall, harvest his apples.
One field, however, remained a mystery to me for the first three years. Only older boys were allowed to work in the corn field. As my junior high years passed I grew tired of picking the same vegetables. When I left the tomato fields my arms were itchy and my hands were black. When I left the pickle fields my arms were scratched from the thorny plants. The potato field was swampy, and picking beans was painfully slow. I wanted something new; I wanted to pick corn.
I got my first chance on a humid July day when help was scarce. Mr. Z instructed my friend and me to load up the wagon with empty waxed banana boxes and a few bushel baskets. We hopped on and he pulled us up the hill with the tractor.
On arrival, I discovered that corn stalks produce heat—especially in July. As we dismounted, Mr. Z explained that my friend and I would take turns following him through the high rows with one of the bushel baskets. He would pick the corn and we would pack it in the banana boxes. “Now, Jason,” he said. “Mind the edges of the leaves—they’re sharp. I once sliced the palm of my hand clear across, not being careful.” He didn’t have to warn me about the bees. I noticed the hives as we turned into the field.
After a quick drink, I grabbed a basket and plunged in after him. The leaves scratched my arms and face, and the handles on the basket dug into my hands. I can’t believe I wanted to do this, I thought.
When the boxes were finally filled I was scratched, bleeding and exhausted, but I was proud that I had not quit. My strength was not found lacking.