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Monday, 24 October 2011

Child Labor Laws

By Ralph Lymburner

It was a hot, blistering sun beating down on me that July morning in 1944. It’s hard to believe the sun could be that hot in Portland, Maine, but in July and August it happens.

I jumped out of the small bus with the rest of the nine and 10 year olds ready to partake in whatever agriculture function the foreman had in mind for us on this particular Saturday. All that was visible were rows of carrot stalks and bean plants as far could be seen.

Depending on the season, we could weed hundreds of rows of carrots, down on hands and knees, going row to row pulling weeds. Later in the year, it would be moving row to row with a big bushel basket picking green beans or whatever was growing.

We would work from 8AM until about 3PM with a few breaks. At noon, we would eat the lunch our mothers had prepared and hoped it would still be edible after hours in the sun. Water was provided by the farm owner.

At the end of the day, we would each be given $2 to take home or an amount based on how much green beans we picked.

Where was the outcry of today? Where were the officials of the Child Welfare Division of our government? Why weren’t our parents in jail for child abuse or why weren’t we removed from the home? Why weren’t we being supervised in some activity so we wouldn’t scrape a knee and run to the doctor? We were at the mercy of the foreman and a little, white-haired lady.

Now the truth can be revealed.

The white-haired lady was Ms. O’Neal, my 4th grade teacher at the Park Street Grade School. Ms. O’Neal’s family owned a very large farm in Portland and every summer she would send notes home to all of the boys parents requesting permission for their son to work on her farm during the summer break one day per week.

All of the boys in the neighborhood would look forward to this summer adventure. We would work in 4th grade and anticipated next year. We were actually treated very well all of the time.

The adults were always looking out for us. The men would make sure we were getting enough breaks and water to drink. Ms. O’Neal was always around to ensure we were okay.

Actually, $2 was a lot of money for a 10-year-old in the 1940s. This would be enough for a movie, popcorn and a small gift for mom and still save a dollar.

Even after 65 years, I can visualize those rows of carrots.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Ralph - This was great!

Your mom and your teacher have a lot to answer for. Imagine allowing you to make money, working in the fresh air with your pals, getting dirt under your finger nails, among the flies, worms, and heaven forbid garter snakes. When you could have been safely at home listening to 'Tom Mix', or playing in your yard wearing your knee pads and helmet. - Sandy

Wow, times were really tough way back then!! I am kidding because I am from way back too.
I picked strawberries and got paid by the quart, and by the end of the day I never wanted to see another strawberry!! Good job Ralph!!

You took your readers on a wonderful journey to a much simpler "time". I loved reading your as it conjured up many "remberences" (my new word) for me.
Oh, the days when I would drink out of the hose nozzle after a long day exploring......only coming in when the street lights and lighting bugs went on for the night.
Wonders that I'm grateful for.........

What a great story! That teacher was teaching much more than math and reading.


What wonderful memories you brought back of our "good Old days".

We went to elementary school and it was about a mile walk.The school had no cafeteria so we walked home for lunch, then back to school.By the time we got home in the afternoon, we had walked 4 miles.That wasn't too bad but, that's only half of the story.

When you got to be in 6th grade and you were about 12, you were permitted to be a "Walker".That job was taking a smaller (1st or 2nd grader)to school,holding their hands crossing all those streets and then walking them home for lunch and back, then finally getting them safely home from school in the afternoon.

Sometimes the little kid lived 4 or 5 blocks further away from school than you did so it added another couple of miles to your jaunts every week.

BUT, we all vied for the job of being a walker because the pay was so good. It was 1938 and the job paid 25 cents a week.

Who wouldn't want to be a walker?

Thanks for a trip back in time.

As children we had so much more free time to do and explore things at will.

It seems today’s children (my grandchildren included) have such little free time to think and/or act on their own.

Good story, Ralph. Exactly at the same time, I spent a couple of weeks picking beans in northern Wisconsin.

About eight years later I worked in a canning factory for 90 cents an hour. That was a very desirable job, because males were allowed to work unlimited hours and we usually put in 100 a week.

Neither job was any fun, but it taught me lifetime lessons about what hard work means.

Some things change and others never do for in many countrys of the world children are still working at a tender age and under terrible conditions. Hopefully they'll forget those times, the kind you wrote about and we all smile about.

Thanks for the sobering reminder Johna, but thank you for this beautiful piece..even a city girl can remember being a Herald Tribune Fresh Air Fund kid and spending two weeks on a Penn. farm, running with buckets to fields and taking breaks by their creek and seeing vegetables coming out of the ground and peaches and apples on a tree...it near brought me to tears to recall those great days of probably l948/49..at ten you got to go to regular camp, sleep in tents, but no farm animals or picking and shelling peas..those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end..stolen from great song of not too many years ago...thanks for the little trip back..

good story ralph

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