Dirt (Part 4)

I learned some valuable lessons working on the land in the local orchards. When I was about 13, I worked for Dr. Seikman, a woman chiropractor who owned ten acres of fruit trees near the San Jose Los Gatos Road. First we picked apricots and then, after a lull, prunes.

When the picking was finished, Dr. Seikman asked me if I wanted to earn $3 by digging around each tree, depositing parabensachlorine, and then mounding up the dirt around them. Well, to me, $3 was a lot of money and, without further investigation, I agreed. However, at the end of the first day, I hadn’t finished one row of trees, much less ten acres.

That night, I went to my dad and told him my problem and explained that I was going to quit. My dad asked me what the doctor had said and what I had said. He explained that when I said that I would do the job, I had made a verbal contract and that I was bound to finish it. Well, I worked for weeks digging around each tree, but that $3 paid off many times later in life when I ran Smith McKay Printing and was asked to bid on a job. The question that always came back was: what don’t I know about this job?

Later, beginning when I was 14, I worked for a retired doctor, J.H. Pond, in the hills above Los Gatos. He was to have a huge influence on my life because he was the man that told my parents that I had to go to college. I worked for him for several years and was put in charge of a motley crew of boys to pick the fruit. We had a well-tended upper orchard and an overgrown lower one. Here, the fruit just dropped to the ground, but the doctor wanted it picked up. In order to get the fruit back to the barn, we had to travel a narrow hillside trail. Dr. Pond had a 22-year-old white, swaybacked horse named Lila whose only job was to drag a sled loaded with fruit boxes up the trail to the barn.

Dr. Pond called all his young workers together and asked who knew how to drive a horse. I volunteered that I knew how—a terrible, mistaken statement. The only think I knew about horses is what I had seen in Roy Rogers movies. The good doctor helped me hitch up the horse to the sled, load up the empty boxes and drag them down to the lower orchard where the crew and I picked ten boxes of overripe prunes onto the wooden sled. All was going fine until, on our return, we came to the first bend in the trail and Lila decided to make a new trail up the side of the hill. I yelled, “whoa, Lila, whoa,” but disaster struck as Lila panicked, stumbled backwards, and sat on the sled and boxes.

My fellow prune pickers disappeared and I was left with an injured Lila and the squashed prunes, boxes and sled. I unhitched Lila, walked her back to the barn, carried the ten, 40# boxes of prunes to the barn by hand and, finally, dragged the broken sled to the barn.  I then went in search of the doctor to explain what happened. I dreaded this as I was sure that I would be fired.

After explaining the situation to him, the good doctor came from the house carrying his small black doctor’s satchel and together we walked to the barn. There, he got a stool and showed me how to remove the slivers wood from poor Lila’s butt.

Thus, I learned that when you are in charge, you are responsible.

2 Comments

  1. I love hearing stories of the Silicon Valley of old. It’s so rare to hear them much less to know anyone who lived them, I feel quite fortunate.  Much thanks.