Tuesday, October 2, 2007

In Praise of Child Labor – Or, Anyone got a couple of 10-year olds I can borrow?

While my family pulled up stakes often enough for my brother and I learn the importance of placing maps to the loo next to our beds – one blind stumble down a set of stairs you forgot you had is all it really takes – one thing remained constant. When the leaves began to turn, we would be found either in the garden with dad pulling up veggies, or helping mom steam up the kitchen with her canner. Either fresh from our own garden, or brought in from the local U-Pick farmstead, the kitchen would be full for weeks of food in varying stages of “puttin up”. This do it yourself approach to food completely spoiled our taste buds for the pallid and pale canned tins of fruits and veg our neighbors seemed to always be serving. It was never hard for me to understand why my classmates hated any and every green veggies their parents would try to shove down their gullets. Mushy, gray, and tasteless, the only hope was the the thick covering of either butter or cheese they spread over it. I'm sorry, but green beans should be, well... green for starters.

It was simply how the summer would end. Dad would take us (big brother and I) out to the garden patch or the local farmer's market first thing in the morning, we picked until the sun beat too hotly down onto us.... then it was into the kitchen with mom to start the long process of stringing, cutting, slicing, boiling, canning, and freezing. Vital grownup duties would be solemnly handed out, long would we argue that we didn't need the peeler, we could use the paring knife safely. How loudly the best jobs would be fought over.... a baby could wash fruit but it took a steady and “mature” hand to man the blanching process. More than a few summer nights ended with my brother and I sitting on the back porch shucking corn or snapping beans, arguing over who did the better job, who did it faster, who could get more done.

Fast forward to today. After three years of exile in a tiny kitchen with no freezer space and only a tiny apartment stove – in other words, far too underpowered for a canner – I finally have a real home. With a real kitchen. And plenty of putting up toys to play with. So, back to the joys of preserving the harvest, right?

Well, while the garden didn't work out this year (hopefully the compost will help for next) I had found a few local orchard and farmer's markets to fill my horn of plenty with. A weekend spent in Amish country with my parents, and I was two bushels of apples richer. While getting them placed into the car, I will confess to a slight hesitancy.... there did seem to be rather a lot of apples going into the car. But joy of joys! Fresh local apples, grown so locally I can practically guess the name of the picker within three tries. Apple butter, applesauce, apple bread, dried apples – a real favorite. Apple slices to freeze, apple fritters, joy of joys.... apple cake! Sure, there were a lot of them, but thats good, right? Should be a breeze, heck... I started working on apples when I was barely four, its a snap.

Three days later and I will admit the smell of apples now sickens me. Only 2/3's of the last bushel to go, and I am seriously thinking about simply... shall we say, enriching the compost pile a tad. I've peeled, I've boiled, my house resembles nothing so much as a applesauce factory... on a bad day when the cleaning crew has walked out. And still the apples come. I swear, they are following me. I even found on sitting bold as you please on the back of the toilet this morning. I think they might even be breeding. Its the only answer. There is no way I willingly and knowingly brought this many of the wretched things into my home.

In desperation, I called my mother and asked her how she coped. What secret was I forgetting that made the job go by so quickly? There had to be some vital step the years away had made me forget.

Once she stopped laughing, she told me.

“Frankly, we never would have gotten it done without the two of you kids. Your brother so anxious to prove he was a grownup, you so desperate to show you could do whatever he could do... Child labor dear. Never can without it.”

So. Anyone got a few spare ten years olds laying around? I promise to have them home in time for dinner.


Mark said...

Well if you were in my neck o' the woods I could loan you 14, 13, 11, 10, 6, 6 and 4 year olds kids. :) Put 'em to work...

ThePrimeGeek said...

*runs screaming for the hills*

Lady Rose Raven said...

Oh god, does that bring back memories of my childhood and my kid's childhood's. Sorry I can't lend you mine, they are 21 and 23 now and still don't see the value in all the "crap". I still hope one day they will see the light.

Brandon said...

I'd send you my eight-year-old, but then I'd be depriving myself of my TV remote retriever and telephone answering service.