The Price of Blue Jeans

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    The row of strawberry plants seemed to stretch into infinity. I picked another handful of the plump red berries and dropped them into my carrier. I would have to pick a lot of them to pay for the blue jeans I wanted for school next fall.

    Mom works hard to take care of Joey and me. We have everything we need, but Joey and I know Mom can’t afford expensive things—like the blue jeans at Stovers. They cost thirty dollars a pair. I was sure all the girls at my new school would be wearing them, and I just had to have a pair.

    I had tried to get a summer job, but no one wanted a fulltime baby-sitter, and I’m not old enough to work in the stores. There aren’t many jobs available when you’re only fourteen. Then I saw Mr. Baker’s ad in the paper: “Berry pickers wanted.”

    Joey bounced up from the sofa, “Hey, Marcie! Can I come too?”

    I shook my head. “The ad says you have to be twelve, and your birthday is still three weeks away.”

    Joey pushed a lock of red hair out of his face and his blue eyes sparkled. “I can hardly wait to get a paper route,” he said.

    Getting a paper route was all Joey had talked about since we moved here. Mom agreed to let him apply for one when he turned twelve.

    When Mom came home from work, I showed her the ad.

    “Berry picking is hard work, Marcie. You’ll have to get up very early every morning to catch the bus,” she warned.

    “But it’s the only way I can earn money for the school clothes I want.”

    Mom smiled. “You can try it. I know how much you want those blue jeans.”

    “Thanks, Mom!” I shouted, throwing my arms around her.

    In the morning the excitement I had felt began to evaporate. I didn’t know any of the kids waiting for the bus. By the time it came. I’d almost made up my mind to go home. Instead I found myself being pushed aboard the bus with the crowd.

    When we reached the berry field, I wondered if Mr. Baker would hire me, but he smiled and handed me a punch card and a carrier. I followed the other kids into the field.

    I was soon tired of bending over so I got down on my knees. A berry whizzed past my head and I looked up to see where it came from. Two boys were picking up berries from their carriers and firing them at each other.

    The girl in the next row looked over and smiled. She had a bright red scarf over her dark hair, and her hazel eyes looked friendly. “Don’t pay any attention to those two,” she said. “They’re always doing that.”

    “Have you worked here long?” I asked.

    She nodded. “I started when the field first opened. Mr. Baker pays a bonus if you stay the season. My name is Alice. You’re new, aren’t you?”

    “We moved here last month. My name is Marcie. This is the first time I’ve tried picking strawberries.”

    Alice smiled. “It’s hard work at first, but you get used to it. I earn enough money for my school clothes. We’ll finish here in three weeks, then the raspberries will be ready.” Alice picked up her full carrier. “Want me to save you a seat on the bus this afternoon?”

    “Thanks, I’d like that.”

    “See you later,” Alice said and started for the berry shed.

    It felt good to know I wasn’t the only one earning money for school clothes. I liked Alice and hoped we would become friends.

    Before quitting time, my knees hurt too much to kneel down and my back ached from bending over. It took a long time to fill my carrier. Now I knew why Mr. Baker paid a bonus for staying the season.

    “Quitting time!” the field supervisor called. Everyone hurried to the berry shed.

    “Anyone want to cash in their cards?” Mr. Baker asked. Some of the kids turned theirs in and got paid. “How about you?” he asked. I hesitated for a moment, then shook my head. Mr. Baker smiled. “See you tomorrow then, unless it rains.”

    I climbed aboard the bus and sat down next to Alice, but I was almost too tired to talk.

    Joey met me at the door with a big grin on his face. “I’m going to get a paper route!” he shouted. “Mr. Rivers says there will be one open the day after my birthday! It’s the area between Williams and Miller streets. Now we can both help Mom by earning extra money!”

    I remembered that the bus had gone past those two streets on the way home. Joey was so proud, I didn’t have the heart to tell him how far he would have to walk.

    After the first couple of days, berry picking did get easier. By the following week, I could pick almost as fast as Alice. Maybe I can earn enough for two pairs of jeans! I thought.

    The sky clouded over the next Monday, and on the way home it started to rain. “Do you think we’ll be able to pick tomorrow?” I asked.

    Alice shook her head. “Not if this keeps up. Rain makes the berries soft, and the cannery won’t take them.”

    It rained all the next day. I watched the sky anxiously and wondered if there would be any good berries left to pick. I could never earn enough for the jeans if it didn’t stop soon.

    Joey came in soaking wet. “What are you doing out in the rain?” I asked.

    Joey wiped his face, “I have to learn my paper route. The kid who has it now is teaching me.” Then he smiled and added, “I stopped at the secondhand shop to look at bikes too.”

    Tuesday night the rain stopped and my hopes soared. There were still three days left to pick!

    I worked as fast as I could. By Friday afternoon the field was finished. Everyone lined up to get paid. I had filled five punch cards and had two punches on the sixth. Mr. Baker smiled and counted out $43.40. “Come back next year,” he said. “You’re a good worker,”

    On the way home, Alice said, “I start picking raspberries next week. Would you like to come with me?”

    “Are they as hard to pick as strawberries?” I asked.

    Alice smiled, “No, silly, you pick them standing up.”

    “Good!” I laughed. “It will be fun working together.”

    Mom was in the kitchen frosting a cake when I got home.

    “I made $43.40!” I shouted, waving the bills in the air. “With what I’ve already saved, I have $51.20!”

    Mom was decorating the cake when I came down the stairs. It’s Joey’s birthday! I’d been so busy I had forgotten it.

    I rushed out of the house and stopped at the second-hand shop.

    “May I help you?” the man asked.

    I described Joey. “Do you know what bike he comes in here to look at?”

    The man smiled and pointed to a red and white bike. “He’s almost worn it out just looking at it,” he said.

    I thought about how far Joey had to walk to deliver papers, then I looked at the price tag and gasped.

    “Hurry up, Marcie!” Joey exploded halfway through supper.

    “Calm down, Joey,” Mom said. “Let your sister finish eating.”

    “Go ahead and serve the cake, Mom,” I said.

    Joey made a wish and blew out the candles. Mom handed him her gift. Joey ripped off the paper.

    “Oh, boy!” he shouted. “A baseball mitt!”

    Mom raised her eyebrows in surprise when I wheeled in my gift to Joey. “I start picking raspberries next week,” I said quickly.

    I’m not sorry I spent the money, I decided. The look on Joey’s face when he saw the bike was worth the price of a dozen pairs of blue jeans!

    [illustrations] Illustrated by Karen Sharp