--Photo courtesy of Paul Miller
J.A. Morgan Farm, Judsonia, 1910.
Images of itinerant strawberry pickers in hard times flowed like a babbling stream for this former president of the White County Historical Society. He first published these word-pictures in his "Lookin’ Down Main" column for the White County Record. He died in 1997.
By W.E. ORR
Morning sunlight over long rows of green plants – "We’ll start in a few minutes – just as soon as the dew dries off a little more" – The pounding of a rock against a nail as a picker repairs a carrier – "Just as sure as I take this row it’ll turn out to be the worst in the whole field." – The patch boss picking his teeth with a weed stem – "So he says to me, ‘pick those berries with longer stems,’ and I says, ‘Hell, mister, are you paying me six cents a quart for picking stems or berries?’ – Snake! Snake! Snake! – They tell me that up around Bald Knob a Glomer got bit by one of those critters last week – Tough feller, though, he just kept right on pickin." – Rounding up the tops for a carry-up – Dirty-faced babies gazing up at the roof of the packing shed – "Think I’ll take eight empties back to the field with me – It’s shore a long walk back to the shed. – "Naw, this is my row. I marked it with this stick." – Rain clouds off to the east – "Shore hope it doesn’t rain tonight. That girl from Missouri I was tellin’ you about – " – Strawberry stain on the knees of passing pickers – "Got to get 53 this morning to beat my record!" – "Let’s round ‘em up and go to the shed. It’s about noon." Bologna sausage and fried egg sandwiches – The crap game on the shady side of the packing shed – "Here’s a two-quart ticket that says he doesn’t pass." The slow walk back to the field again – Back aches and sore knees – The old-timer with chawin’ tobacco stains on his whiskers – "Yeah, the darndest thing I ever seen in a strawberry patch was Abe Doak and his dog back in 1919. Abe had the durn dog trained to pick strawberries. It would go ahead of Abe and – " Little girls experimenting with strawberry juice as a substitute for lipstick – "Ever try writing your name in the bottom of a quart? I got a letter from a girl up in St. Paul year before last." – "Now, Willie, I told you that if you put your tickets in your back pocket you’d lose them." – "Let’s see, six cents times 92 quarts is – who’s got a pencil?" Supper time around the pickers’ quarters – The odor of burned fried potatoes – Evening shadows through open doors – "You’d better hurry if you’re goin’ to town with us. – Naw, there ain’t no more hot water." The ride to town on top the berry cases – "Them that don’t meet me here at midnight will just have to foot it home." – Odors of frying hamburgers and cheap perfume – The women with seven candy-smeared offspring – "Wonder how a woman can have that many kids and still have time to pick berries?" – "Cash a check, mister?" – "Photos, three for ten cents." – Long lines of trucks from the berry fields – "You can’t step on my wife, I don’t give a damn if you are drunk." – Old residents sitting on the sidewalk seats watching the crowds – The blare of the beetle organs in the cafes – "Bear Cat Papa Blues" – "Make mine beer." – The twirling lights of the ferris wheel – "Right here, boys, two cats off a quarter, three off a half." – Sweaty giants under the athletic tent banners – "That big ape wouldn’t look so bad if he hadn’t had such a hard day." – "We better get back – you know what he said about midnight." – Moonlight and ice cream on the face of a little boy sleeping on the truck bed – "All I ask tonight is that when I close my eyes I don’t see all those berries again."vvv
Strawberry pickers at Judsonia in 1912.