The summer I was 17, I worked on my dad's farm. We had three main crops we harvested in succession. First, cabbage. Second, tomatoes. Third, peppers. (there was overlap, but essentially, that's how it worked)
Cutting cabbage is hard work, but fun. Dad drove the tractor in its lowest gear while a crew of six or eight followed behind. Each of us had a good-sized knife in hand. As quickly as you could, you grabbed a cabbage by the head, pulled it to one side to expose its thick neck of stem, and chopped. Then you launched it through the air to land in a pile on the wagon.
We'd do this from about seven in the morning until three in the afternoon. Dad would then park the wagon under a tree. We'd spend the rest of the afternoon packing the cabbages into waxed-paper boxes. Then he'd drive them to the wholesaler in town to sell.
The last day of cabbage season, we skipped the packing stage. Dad got a better price for the cabbage when it was packed, but this day, we just wanted to get it done. Instead of neatly packed boxes, we threw the whole wagon load into big wooden tote boxes which measured about 6x6 feet, and about 4 feet deep. Dad hauled them all to town to sell to the wholesaler.
The tractor came back down the road a few hours later, the totes still on the wagon. The market was flooded with cabbage, and wholesaler couldn't buy them. Dad wasn't happy about it, but the tomatoes were ready to pick, and there wasn't time to cry over a wasted day. There wasn't even enough time to empty the totes of cabbages...
July was hot. August was hotter. The thunderstorms of southern Ontario rolled in at just the right time. We were still picking tomatoes when suddenly, the the peppers were ready. Many days, we worked from seven in the morning until it was too dark to see if the tomato or pepper in your hand was ripe.
One morning, in about the third week of August, Dad tapped me on the shoulder and told me he had another job for me. He walked me and two others over to the cabbage wagon.
"We've got to dump it. All of it."
There was a bit of room around the edge of the wagon to stand on, so I climbed up. The stink was horrible: a combination of sweet rotting vegetables with hot, bitter vinegar. Over the past five weeks, most of the individual cabbages had rotted into slimy handfuls of dripping leaves.
I reached for what seemed like a tangible head. My fingers went right through it. As much of it as I could hold onto, I grabbed, and flung to the ground.
After about forty minutes, the piles in the totes had diminished enough that it was clear if we wanted to get any more out, we'd have to climb right in. I swung my leg over the side of the tote and sighed in disgust as my foot sank to my ankles in rotting goo.
I threw handful after handful of dripping rot over my head. The clouds of fruit flies were thick. Dozens of them ended up embedded in the crusts of cabbage juice that now stained my arms, legs and face.
Henry: Aw, Dad! I hate cleaning up my Lego! It's the worst job in the world!