When my mom shook me awake, I rolled over and tried to ignore her.  She turned on the light in my bedroom and the shock forced my eyes to shut tightly and pull my blanket over my head.  I knew that it was time to get up.

I was only twelve but those summer days are forever burned into my psyche.  The sting of waking up before I wanted to end my rest has been a part of my routine for years.  It was in those early days when my will to rise and meet the day was born.

It was still dark outside.  My dad dropped me off at the same farm bus stop that was now very familiar to me.  In my hand was a bandana and a brown bag with my lunch for the day. 

After taking a snooze on that dirty, musty rickety well-past-its-prime bus we arrived at one of the many tomato fields in the Sacramento Valley.  Our load of weary humanity filed off the bus and checked with the foreman to receive our punch card.  This was our tally of our day’s labor.

One of the team leaders called to us to follow him.  Each of us followed and peeled off when we were directed to our row of tomato plants.  We grabbed a wooden box. 

Down on my knees I pulled on rubber gloves and began to harvest ripe tomatoes and gently put them the crate.  The farm would pay me $.25 per crate.   When the box was full, it was heavy. 

Carrying the box to the end of my row and stacking them for trucks to load was back-breaking work.  The sun rose steadily and blasted us with that famous Sacramento heat.  My bandana was wrapped around my head to keep me cool.

Dust and dirt stuck to my clothes like a magnet was sucking it in.  Bugs and caterpillars were constant companions.  Spanish was the language of choice by the many laborers who surrounded me.

I watched adult labors and was amazed at how fast and strong they were.  They were able to stack boxes and boxes of tomatoes at the end of their rows.  My diminutive stack just made their monster harvest just look even bigger. 

I learned to work hard, find pride in it.  Start early, be diligent and don’t quit until the work is done.  Doesn’t everyone in America have a similar story?

photo credit: