By Don Carol
We’d struck it rich!
My brother, Dave, and I received an allowance each week. Well, most weeks anyway.
Ok, SOME weeks. It was $.25 (notice the decimal). For a quarter, we could see a movie and buy popcorn –
and have a nickel left over.
We lived on a farm near Popejoy, Iowa and went into town once a week to do the grocery shopping,
hang out with the other families, and sometimes see a movie while Mom & Dad went to “The Joynt” to have a
beer or 2 or 3, with their friends. Dad was doing very well, earning almost $100 per week. Of course Mom did not
have a job. She was a “stay-at-home mom” before the phrase was invented.
One spring afternoon, Dads boss Arvid came by the house to talk to Dad about some job
that need to be done. While he was there, he turned to Dave and me and said, “You boys want to earn some money?”
Instantly, he had our attention!
“Yeah”, we shouted enthusiastically.
“You ever walk beans before?” he asked.
We knew about walking dogs, but walking beans? How do you walk beans? We thought
he was teasing us.
He explained. “You walk between the rows of soybeans and using a hoe or a machete,
cut the corn, cockleburs and other things that interfere with the growing bean plants.”
That sounded simple enough. We knew what a bean plant looked like, and we could certainly
identify corn, cockleburs and other weeds that should be removed. So we both said “Sure. How much do you
pay?” Always an important question, we thought.
“$40 for the south bean field. It should keep you busy for about a week.”
Wow! We would be rich.
“You’ve hired yourself a couple of bean walkers”, we said.
Arvid supplied us with the necessary tools and suggested we take our time and take lots of
water with us to the field. We started the next morning at 7:00.
Dave would start between the first 2 rows, then there would be an empty space, and I would
start in between the next 2 rows. That way, we could each cover two rows at a time and not get in each other’s
way. We left water and snacks and things at the end of the row, and off we went. Everything was fine at first.
It was cool in the early morning and we quickly began to learn how to yield the machetes without taking out a dozen bean plants.
It was fun at first. We really enjoyed the power we had while swinging those machetes.
We played warrior and hacked our enemies into oblivion.
And then it warmed up.
Noon came and we took a break to eat lunch and drink some water. I suppose we rested for about
20 minutes and then went back to work. The sun was high and it was hot. We took off our shirts the next time we
were at the beginning end of the rows, and drank more water. The sun beat down and we hacked away, wiping sweat from
our eyes. We hadn’t thought of sunburn.
We drank plenty of water and took a couple of breaks, then called it a day around 4:00 PM
We picked up our shirts, water bottles, lunch bags, etc and headed for the house. We were very tired and very dirty.
Mom decided we needed baths.
That’s when we learned about the sunburn. Sun screen hadn’t been invented
yet back then, but we wouldn’t have been able to afford it anyway. When the warm bath water hit the sunburn, we
instantly knew how lobsters felt. We were being cooked! At least we thought so.
The next morning found us stiff, and sore from the sunburn. But like young soldiers,
we trooped off to the bean field again after a good breakfast. This time we were slathered with baby oil to protect
against the sun. Baby oil??? Yep, baby oil.
By the end of the day we had finished about half the field. There was very little corn
or cocklebur in the finished part, and most of the beans were still there.
This continued for two more days, and at last we had completed the assignment. The beans
were “clean” and mostly weed free.
On the morning of the 5th day, Arvid picked us up with a tractor and we drove up
& down the rows so he could see what a good job we’d done. We hacked a few stalks of corn we had missed.
Then, satisfied, Arvid tractored us back to the house and paid us in cash. Real hard cash. We couldn’t wait
for the Saturday trip in to town.
Besides the $40, Dave and I learned about responsibility and about honoring our word.
Though tired and hurting, we still went back to the field each day until it was finished. It felt good to get paid,
but more importantly, if felt good to have completed the job. It felt good to know we had “stuck with it”
when the going got tough. Though we didn’t know it, we were developing a work ethic that would stick with us forever.
There were other beans to be walked. Dave and I walked them. For several summers,
we walked bean fields. We learned much and we earned much. We kept some of the money we earned, but most of it
was given to our parents to help with the budget. That too was a learning experience. We were part of the family,
part of the team, part of the earning power. And it felt good.
Do you know of a farmer who needs his beans walked? We’re available on weekends.
© 2004 by Don Carroll