It was back to the typical summer problem. I wasn’t 16, so I couldn’t get a real job, but I needed money just the same. My parents were working hard to keep my six younger brothers and sisters and me fed, and I knew my begging for money just gave them ulcers. I still had my paper route, but I didn’t make much from it. I tried selling worms as fish bait, but they all died in the bin I put them in. I found a few weeding jobs, but it wasn’t steady work.
Then, about halfway through the summer, my grandparents from Wyoming came to visit for a few weeks. Grandpa was a tall, skinny farmer who had worked most of his life either in the oil industry or on his land. I told him about my job history during the summer. He smiled quietly.
“So, you think you need money?” he asked. I assured him I did. “Come with me tomorrow,” he continued. “I’ll show you how to make money.” I went to bed that night dreaming of my increased cash and large savings account. I hadn’t slept very long, though, when Grandpa jostled me awake. His fluorescent watch glared 5:30 A.M. at my sleepy eyes.
“Get dressed. We’ve got to get started early.” I crawled out of bed, longing for the usual lazy summer sleep-in. We got in his truck and drove about five minutes to a cherry orchard. A grizzled old man was standing by the warehouse along with some other guys.
“Wes,” Grandpa said, “my grandson and I are here to pick cherries.”
“Well, Lawrence, you know I can always use some good workers,” the old man said. I found out later they had been friends a long time. Wes explained to me how he had to keep the stems on each cherry and showed me how to avoid damaging the trees while picking. He checked us out some buckets and pointed out a row of trees to pick. Grandpa grabbed a ladder, and we swished through the tall crabgrass along with the other guys to our first tree. I started picking on the low branches around the bottom of the tree on one side. It was then I realized that I had forgotten the most important part.
“How much do we get paid an hour for picking these cherries?” I asked. Grandpa just laughed a little. “You don’t get paid by the hour on this job,” he said. “You get paid by the pound.” I thought a minute and asked how much we would get for a pound.
“Ten cents,” he said. I looked at the small amount in the bottom of my bucket and thought that it must take an awful lot of cherries to make a pound. Pretty soon Grandpa emptied his bucket. “You see,” he said, “I like this work because you decide how much you make. If you get up early and work hard, you can pick a thousand pounds a day.”
We kept working our way around the tree, and pretty soon all the cherries that were easy to reach were gone. I drifted over to the next tree and started pulling the juice-laden cherries into my bucket. My fingers were getting scratched and sticky, and as the sun came up I could feel that it would be a hot July day. My grandpa noticed me at the other tree and told me you never start a new tree until you’re finished with the one you’re working on. I got out a ladder, and we started picking again. Grandpa even climbed to the highest branches until we had every cherry.
“The best cherries are at the top,” he told me. Finally, we moved on. The sun got higher in the sky, and we kept working. I got tired, and Grandpa said we couldn’t stop until lunch. I kept picking and picking, and the sweat ran down my forehead. I couldn’t believe how fast Grandpa worked. The whole time, he would tell me stories. Finally, he said it was time to eat. We got down out of the tree, and he handed me a jelly sandwich and some cold water. He ate quickly and was right back up the tree. I sat around a little longer and then went back up. I was amazed at how hard we could work.
I admit I kind of loafed in the hot afternoon, not working as hard as I could. Grandpa was just steady as could be. Wes finally came by with a tractor. We put our cherries on the back, and the day was over. We weighed in. In pounds, I had about a fourth of the cherries Grandpa did. Wes asked us if we wanted to be paid, and I was ready, but Grandpa said we would be working the two weeks of harvest so he could just pay us at the end. I realized then that I was really in for some hard work.
By the end of two weeks, I almost got used to getting up so early. I was proud to finally be able to pick about half what my grandpa did on the last day. I also learned some things about Grandpa’s life, like how hard it was to find a job in the Depression, or how he missed his son (my uncle), who was killed in Vietnam.
But the main thing I figured out was that I didn’t need money; I needed to work. If you work hard, the money takes care of itself. When I got the check, it was much larger than I had expected. Grandpa had added his cherries from the two weeks to mine, as long as I promised to save half for a mission.
Now I am amazed that Grandpa would use his vacation to teach me how to earn money, but I’ll always be grateful.