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Cutting Broc This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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My alarm clock blared and I rolled over to see that awful hour I had been dreading since the day I signed up to be a broccoli cutter: five o'clock. As I forced myself to get up, I thought, I've heard of jobs that require a person to get up early, but 5 a.m.? These people must be insane!

I stood in the kitchen, my bare feet chilling on the cold linoleum. I put together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and threw a bag full of crackers into my old lunchbox. "So, this is what the world looks like at five in the morning," I whispered. "Dark, gloomy and still, with not a single light on in any house around. And silent." Just then, the sun emerged above the faraway hills and came through the kitchen window straight into my soul, filling it with warmth and hope, like a sign that everything would be fine.

I snapped back to reality when I heard a horn honking - my ride. I grabbed my belongings, making a mental checklist of the things I needed: Rain boots, check. Rain pants and jacket, check. Lunch, water, birth certificate, check, check, check.

"Hey Karen, hey Ray," I sighed as I jumped into the blue farm truck, slamming the creaky door behind me.

The five-minute drive to Lane Oak Farms seemed endless as I tossed my feelings back and forth about the outcome of this day. "Well, girls," Ray sighed. "We're here. Have a great day!"

We'll try," we whined.

We stood and stared in disbelief at what was in front of us: a filthy school bus filled with rowdy workers anxious to start their day of broccoli cutting. We nervously stepped into the rotten-smell-ing bus, and all eyes turned to us.

"Oh, look," a few second-year workers snickered. "New recruits that we'll have to teach - just great!"

"What do ya wanna bet they won't last a day?" another worker cackled.

Karen and I quickly took our seats, both shaking and not knowing what was going to happen next. Our thoughts were interrupted by a booming voice.

"Good morning. I'm Fred, for those of you who don't know me. I'm your boss. Byron?" Fred shouted, taking roll.

"Here!" yelled Byron from the back.

"Lindsey?"

"Right here!" Lindsey chuckled.

"Allison?"

"H-h-here," I stuttered, getting up to hand Fred my birth certificate to prove that I was old enough to work in the fields.

After roll, Fred settled into the cracking driver's seat, set his steaming mug of coffee on the ledge, and then made the most awful sound you could possibly hear at 6 in the morning - the shriek of a bus at least 30 years old trying to start its engine.

We all cringed as smoke billowed from the rear.

"Where could they be taking us in this awful thing?" I muttered to Karen.

"Not far, I'm guessing. I don't think this stink, old bus can even make it to town and back," Karen joked.

All I could see was Fred's white hair sticking out from under his black hat as we bounced up and down, the bus shaking its way along the gravel road. We stopped next to a huge field.

"Time to work! I'll show you newcomers how this is done. Make sure you put your rain gear on, it's really wet this morning!" Fred commanded. He was standing at the end of a row of broccoli, a row that seemed to go on forever and was filled with millions of heads of broccoli.

"When you cut a head of broc, make sure one hand is on top while your other hand is cutting the stem, so it is as long as your knife, about six inches. We do this to prevent chopping fingers, but unfortunately, it hasn't always been 100 percent effective," Fred cautioned. We all looked at each other in disbelief. "The tractor will pull this cart. You will each have your own row, and you will cut every head of broccoli bigger than your hand, and will keep up with the cart. Is that clear?"

"Yes," we mumbled, each wondering how we'd gotten into this. We went to our respective rows behind the tractor; Karen and I made sure we were not separated. The tractor's engine roared as a ready, set, go signal. Then I was off, sloshing through the muddy field with dew running off my rain pants as I cut every piece of broccoli that met the size requirements. I thought I was doing all right, until I saw that the cart was far ahead of me - too far!

"Wait!" I shrieked.

Everyone signaled to the tractor driver to stop.

"It's okay, it's your first day, but hurry up, and don't miss any broccoli!" our crew boss Stephani consoled me as she ran back to help. I quickly caught up to the cart and regained my breath.

"Go!" we all shouted to the driver.

The hours crawled by and I was starting to get irritated by the repetition: Bend, cut, throw. Bend, cut, throw.

"Break!" Stephani yelled.

"Yes, finally!" Karen shouted.

"Tell me about it. I thought they'd never let us sit down!" I laughed.

We all groaned as we sat down in pain from trenching through the fields for the past three hours. Just as I was getting comfortable, and finishing my sandwich, Stephani yelled, "Five minutes, get ready!"

"Oh," I groaned. "Well, you know what they say - a good thing never lasts forever!"

"Unfortunately!" Karen whined.

Then we were back to the awful repetition, but this time it was worse. My muscles started cramping and my feet were killing me. The worst thing was, it was noon and the sun was scorchingly hot. The beautiful sun that just that morning had brought hope and joy to my soul was now beating painfully across my back. Nothing sounded better than a cold, refreshing shower and a nap. I shook the wonderful thought out of my head.

As I went through the last treacherous hours of the day, all I could think was, I'm making money, I'm learning great work ethics, I'm making money. Karen and I tried to make conversation to help the time go faster, but all we found ourselves talking about was the pain we were in.

"That's it, we're done for the day. Get in the bus, let's go home!" Fred said. I had never seen more relieved but exhausted faces in my life.

Looking back at how painful and hard that first day was, I realize that in spite of all that, that summer working in the fields was a great experience, and I don't think I'd trade it for anything.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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