The searing heat in La Grande topped 113 degrees. I remember that we lavished a few of our remaining coins on two quarts of cool skim milk. Under a shade tree in a stifling city park, each of us chug-a-lugged down a full quart. Then we faced up to the bad news. Our meager, duffle bag food supply was low. We were almost flat broke. Down to nickels and dimes. We needed work now, no fooling around. That’s when we set out to chase dawn the job rumors—rumors that for once, turned out to be true. East of La Grande,, near the isolated town of Cove, we got a job picking raspberries.
This was it. In all of our youthful forays that summer, we never had it so good. We’d found our fairy godmother. I can’t remember her name, but I remember she was a short, barrel-shaped woman with curly red hair. She owned a big berry farm with a fast ripening crop.
For some unexplained reason, she took an immediate liking to Cy and me. Close to a creek at the far end of her property, several of her migrant pickers and their families had set up a small encampment. But that wasn’t for us. She said we could sleep in her barn and we could build our campfire in a small clearing next to her garden and her fresh water pump.
That was only the beginning, On the first night of our stay, she brought out to us a platter full of leftover meat loaf. Her own recipe, she said. And we hadn’t even started working for her yet. That night, we attacked that meat loaf. We wolfed it down. Then we rolled out our bedding on a pile of hay in her barn and went to sleep with our bellies full for the first time in days. Strange noises from a cow nibbling at the hay near our bedding didn’t bother us one bit.Shortly after dawn there came another unexpected surprise. Fresh eggs! On that first morning and every morning of the berry harvest, our inexplicable, redheaded boss supplied us with fresh eggs for breakfast. With all that, we were still paid the going rate for picking berries.
In return, we worked hard for our keep. I think we did a good job, although I couldn’t break a continuing habit of nibbling at ripe raspberries while I worked.