A large commercial orchard near Post Falls, Idaho grew several apple varieties and needed pickers for a bumper crop of an early variety. Variety planting was planned so there would be continuous picking. While the early variety was being picked, the still green apples of another variety were ripening. Expecting a long stretch of work during the summer of 1943, my parents moved from Los Angeles to a migrant camp near the orchard.
My sister was an infant so Mother only picked a few hours a day. I was given the job of watching the younger kids at our yurt while Mother helped pick with the baby in a sling over her back. Many mothers with young kids came back to the camp to fix lunch and get a few hours out of the sun. A boy my age whose family lived in the next yurt was also tasked with watching several younger siblings.
Boys my age often replaced our mothers in the orchards. The neighbor boy and I worked many mornings and some afternoons picking up culls. Pay for culls was not the same as for ‘off the tree’ but it was pay. One hot day on the walk back to the camp for lunch that boy and I stopped at the camp well and pumped cold water on our heads. We talked about taking off our shoes and jumping into the horse watering trough next to the warehouse before we went back to picking in the afternoon. We decided to eat quickly so we could get into the cold water for a few minutes.
When I stopped at his yurt to get him, his mother told me that he died. At first, I thought it was a joke. He had hurried lunch and choked on a chunk of green apple.
I was used to never seeing someone again because they or we moved so often.
This was different.