Strawberry Picking and a Duck Tour of Sicily
All the kids were excited – it was Sunday and we were all scheduled to go to the Face Farm, as pickers. Each and everyone who picked berries got paid individually and that meant we would have ready cash to spend at Yosher's General Store.
I was planning to purchase an ice cream cone with my earnings. If I succeeded in picking 20 quarts of strawberries, at ¼ cents per quart, that would give me a whole nickel earned, and a chance to buy an ice cream cone. My mouth was watering just thinking of it. I kept telling myself that I must go on picking and not be diverted by other activities like games and playing around.
My Grandmother, who was one of the champion pickers in the area, had already picked 33 quarts of strawberries and was moving up to blueberries and the higher pay. For me it was the strawberries and the magic number of twenty.
I had just finished picking my thirteenth quart of strawberries when zap, another something or other wopped me on the neck. At first I thought it was a bee and I would stop picking and swing my arms around everyway trying to get the insect off of me. Then suddenly I realized that I was being pelted by berries -- -- and someone was throwing them at me. The slightest bit of trouble and the picking foreman would come up and discharge anyone who was causing trouble. I tried to stay quiet despite the barrage but two direct hits, one in my left ear and the other in my right eye made me yelp and turn around fast and that's when I saw this kid, about three rows down from us, throwing berries at me.
"Hey, you!" I shouted at him. "You throw one more berry at me and I'll come over there and bust you one right in the kisser!" I felt that was a good strong reply and would stop the berry throwing episode until I achieved my 20 boxes.
I saw the kid that was doing all the throwing. He was a little bigger than I, and had two bandoleers of ammunition around his chest. He stood up, looked me in the eye, and pointing his index finger at me said in a loud voice, "YOU KILLED JESUS!"
I was so startled by what he said, that I dropped two quarts of strawberries on the ground, turned to face him and said, "I did not kill Jesus - - - I don't even know Jesus and besides I have a dog of my own."
But he answered me right back, "Oh yes you did! My pastor Rev. Linstrom said so in his sermon last Sunday. So there!"
We were shouting this conversation over the heads of some of the berry pickers and they all stopped picking and listened to our shouting to one another.
Suddenly the kid stopped talking, looked me straight in the eye, pointed his finger at me and said, "You're a Jew aren't you?"
"Yes!" I stammered back and looked at my mother for support. None was forthcoming as she was listening and watching the by-play like everyone else.
The kid continued, "Pastor Lindstrom says you Jews killed our Lord Jesus - - So there!"
I didn't know what to make of it. At first I thought he was accusing of killing his dog, named Jesus, but now I realized he was accusing me of doing something really bad, so I turned to my mother and said, "Mom, I swear that I didn't kill Jesus; I didn't even know him — I swear"
I was seven years old and felt tears starting to run down my face. I dropped my strawberry baskets and ran to my Mother, who was picking about four rows down from us.
"Mom", I said "that kid over there says I killed his dog Jesus. Mom, I never even saw his dog Jesus and I certainly didn't kill it!"
Suddenly the voice from four rows down came back at me. "You Ninny, I didn't say Jesus was my dog. I said he was my Lord! And according to my Pastor, you killed him! So there!"
"I did not!' I answered him. I didn't even know him!"
"You're a Jew aren't you?" he shouted at me.
I looked at my mother and she nodded her head.
"Yes," I answered.
"Then you killed him," he said.
"I did not," I shouted back at him.
Suddenly my Mother got up and came over to me and took my hand and said, "We are going home." Then she went over to the Pastor, who was picking with the other group and addressing him directly said, "You should be ashamed of yourself, teaching children such hateful lies!"
The Reverend Linstrom turned red and stammered and staggered around trying to explain to my mother what he 'really said.' How ever my mother took my hand and pulled me away toward where our Ford truck was parked, ordered me inside, got in herself and drove us away from the berry picking fields. I was practically crying, asking her to stop because I knew that my ice cream cone was finished and I would never get a taste of it.
I later learned that the name of the boy was Lynn Bosworth and that he lived on a farm about five miles north of us and went to the same school I went to.
I saw Lynn Bosworth at school occasionally during the next year but never spoke to him. We would do no more than glare at each other and walk the other way. Since he was one class ahead of me we never had any real reason to get to know one another.
It was the height of the Depression, 1932, when we left the farm, so my father could find work in New York City. The farmers of the area abandoned their farms by the hundreds and joined the trek to New York City, where they could find work.
I will always remember the day my father quit farming. We had just loaded the truck with bags of corn and a few bushels of cucumbers and took off at 4:30 AM for the Albany Farmers Market.
We arrived at 6 AM, got our stall and started to unload some of the corn and cucumbers on the ground at the rear of the truck.
The local grocers and pushcart vendors would walk down the shopping isle between the trucks and start haggling with the farmers over the price of a bag or bushel. Sometimes they would shout at each other and I became very frightened, thinking they were going to get into a fist fight, but that never happened and they always settled on a price, made the sale, picked up their purchase and left. Some of them pushed small wheel barrels or baby carriages into which the placed their purchases and wheeled them home.
We did not sell one bag of corn or bushel of cucumbers that morning. The prices were so low that my father had me load the vegetables back on the truck and took the entire load out on US-9, stopped the truck, had me unload all the bags of corn and bushels of cucumbers on the ground, poured gasoline over the pile and set fire to it and watched it burn.
He was so angry, I was afraid to speak to him. I just did what I was told and went back and sat in the truck. My father joined me when the fire was about out, started the truck and was muttering under his breath – They wouldn't even pay for the bags and bushels much less the corn and cucumbers. I began to realize that the entire trip was a waste and we didn't get any money from it.
I wondered what my mother was going to say when we got back. I know she would be looking for some money to buy things with. It was a very quiet ride back, my father didn't say a word and I was afraid of saying anything to him
When we returned my father and mother had some words and he went into the bedroom, packed a small bag and got back into the truck and took off. My mother said he was going to New York City to find some work and that maybe we would soon meet him there.
About fifteen years later, I was an officer in the US Merchant Marine and sailed on the SS Ezra Meeker, a heavily armed Liberty Ship that was assigned to the invasion of Gela, Sicily. During the invasion a couple of friends and I managed to procure a "Duck" (a DUKW amphibious vehicle), and rode it from our ship at anchor in the Bay to the beach where our men were engaged with the Germans and fighting to retain a foothold on the beachhead.
We rode the Duck about two miles inland looking for souvenirs to bring back to the ship when a group of German infantry men saw us and shot the tires out from under the Duck.
That prevented us from returning to the ship so we started walking down the road and back to the Gela Beach when we spotted a wine shop and a group of American Paratroopers buying wine and generally enjoying themselves. We decided to join them and started toasting our ship, the Ezra Meeker, our Captain, and the Allies and then started to gab amongst ourselves regarding where we came from. One fellow across the room said "Albany!" "Heck." I said, "I come from Albany also!"
The voice across the room said, "Well to tell the truth I don't really come from Albany but a little town near Albany."
"Well," I answered, "I don't really come from Albany either but a small town to the northeast of Albany, named Stephentown."
"Heck," said the voice across the room, "I come from Stephentown also. So let's drink to Stephentown!" We all drank to Stephentown and I make my way across the room to see who my compatriot was from Stephentown. When I got within four feet I saw that it was Lynn Bosworth whom I hadn't seen for fifteen years since the berry picking incident.
"Oh Shit!" I said, "It's you! You can go jump in the ocean! I'm not interested in anything you have to say, so blow out of here!"