Memories of Summer, Part 2: The Packing House

Every year, especially around mid-July the sight of figs, peaches and nectarines bring back memories of the summer of 1975.  Between my junior and senior year of high school, I wanted to get a job. For some reason still unclear to me to this day, my friend Stefani and I applied at the local packing houses in Biola; a small city about twenty minutes southwest of Fresno. 
The job sounded simple enough.  Show up after the fruit was picked – about noonish, then stay until it was packed – about 8ish.  We could sleep in and still make some summer cash.  Our job duties consisted of standing around a conveyor belt and packing the fruit matching the size of our fruit packing tray.  Piece of cake, or so we thought.

We filled out paperwork. We were hired. We jumped for joy at the thought of being gainfully employed.

First harvest – Figs. Those soft, purplish-colored fruit filled with tiny, crunchy seeds.  I used to like figs.  Especially the fig pineapple jam my mom made. And Fig Newton’s.  But packing them changed my mind, forever.  Nothing personal to all of you fig-aficionados out there, but after endless days of handling squishy, seed-seeping, sticky sections of fruit, I never wanted to see, smell, or taste another fig as long as I lived.  Not in any shape or form.  Even today, thirty-five plus years later the sight of a fig makes me shudder. 

If the fruit wasn’t bad enough, standing all day in an open air, sweltering packing house made it even worse.  The outside temperatures were over 100.  The inside temperatures were easily well past 100 also.  Soon the thought of a paycheck didn’t seem so enticing.  When fig season was over, we decided to give up our packing house careers. We could live without money, couldn’t we?

In July they called back – peach and nectarine season started and workers were needed.  Stefani and I decided to give it one more chance.  After all peaches couldn’t be as bad as figs, could they? 
Wrong.  Unbeknownst to me, peaches were covered with thick fuzz.  Mix that with high heat, sweat, and humidity and it caused every exposed body part to itch like crazy until washed repeatedly with soap and water.   But wait, the packing house did have a ‘de-fuzzing’ machine.  It helped.  A little.  Actually, not very much at all.

Nectarines didn’t have fuzz, their one redeeming quality, but packing them didn’t hold the fascination it once did when first hired.  Standing all day, watching for the correct sized fruit for our own trays wasn’t easy.  I began to get motion sickness from the conveyor belt and had to take short breaks. After a while I recovered, but my piece-work paychecks left little to be desired.

 We did find something positive in the whole experience – free fruit.  Peaches and nectarines too big to pack were given away. First to us, then to the farmers to feed their pigs. Some nights we’d each take home a grocery bag full of ripe, juicy peaches much to the delight of our families.  Soon, peach and nectarine season came and went.  We survived and even made a little money. 
In late August the packing house called yet again.  Grape season.  But fortunately, for us, our senior year was also starting and we declined the chance to pack grapes. Thank goodness because rumor had it grapes were full of black widow spiders.  Sounded worse than figs and fuzz put together.
July 1975 ~ Me and Stefani
Looking back, we agreed even though the conditions were dreadful, the money really wasn’t bad. We still laugh about the squishy figs and constant itching from the peach fuzz.  Although I won’t change my negative fig feelings, I still enjoy peaches and an occasional nectarine. 
Summer of 1975, fruit seasons to remember.

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