The summer of my 14th year I was offered a job. As this job did not involve babysitting or vacuuming or pulling weeds in the garden, I was eager to take it on. I do not know why, exactly, I was offered this job. I suppose the people must have been desperate. Either that or extremely optimistic. Either that or they had never met me and just thought that, since they knew and liked my sister, they would know and like me as well.
Boy, were they disappointed.
I was uniquely UNqualified for the job. 1) I could not drive, and the job involved driving large vehicles. 2) I grew up with two sisters and zero brothers and the job involved lots of muscled, sweaty men spitting and hefting things and this intimidated me greatly because I did not understand men, did not know how to talk to them or behave around them, did not have any clue as to how to flirt with them and was far too shy to do so even if I did know how. 3) The job involved patience and focus…and I was easily bored.
But, given the choice of a job – and a paycheck – I said “Yes!” despite the little voice in the back of my head shouting, “RUN AWAY!”
And so my sister picked me up one hot August day – or perhaps it was July – and drove me over to the parking place of Occupational Hazard Number One (hereafter referred to simply as OH NO).
As we parked and got out of her car, I spotted a large, intimidating Hay Truck.
“Um…is that the vehicle I’m going to be driving?” I asked my sister.
“Probably,” she replied. “But it could be that one over there.” She pointed and I saw a mammoth truck looming over the farm yard. It was like The Incredible Hulk…or the Jolly Green Giant, minus the jolly parts.
At OH NO I met Nancy, my optimistic/desperate employer. I don’t think she was overly impressed with me. My sister hung around awhile, and then she drove away, leaving me behind, horribly nervous, and desperately shy of these unknown, sweaty men and the efficient woman who had hired them.
There was one person there whom I knew: my brother-in-law. He was always kind to me, teasing me and telling me to stand up straight. I have never asked him, but I have a feeling that, as he saw me hanging around that day, he had to have known better than to expect big things of his little, wimpy sister-in-law.
We piled into the cab of OH NO. I was smushed between my brother-in-law and a French Canadian guy whom I couldn’t understand and who smoked these appalling-smelling skinny cigarettes. I thought longingly of the babies I could be sitting on to earn my money and wondered how on God’s green earth bodies could smell so badly. And they hadn’t even begun bucking bales yet.
There were more guys riding on the back of the truck. Younger guys. A couple only a year or two older than me. I knew that there were girls who would give their eye teeth to be in my position. I was prepared to give my eye teeth to get out of it.
And then it was my turn at the wheel. My brother-in-law gave me a few pointers and set me free to wreck the havoc that he probably knew I’d be wrecking. They began tossing bales and I began driving V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y. This was in part because I was supposed to drive slowly…but also in part because I had to shift, steer, and otherwise operate a gigantic vehicle when I had never, in my life, operated any kind of vehicle, ever.
It is a funny fact that a field which appears to be flat and level may be, upon closer inspection, very much NOT flat or smooth. If there was a tiny hump in the land, an itsy bitsy depression in the ground, I found it with OH NO. I stalled the truck. I heaved and lurched and abused the truck. And, in my attempts to NOT run over bales along the way, I managed to run over at least three which were lurking in the shadows and then jumped out at me in particularly vulnerable moments.
I couldn’t hear over the sound of the engine, nor could I see in my rear view mirror as it was soon obscured by bales of hay…but I know…I KNOW…that I was being laughed at. Or perhaps cursed.
I was asked to drive two other times that summer. And, being a glutton for punishment, I did so. I think that somehow I thought this was good for me. A learning experience. A chance to broaden my protected and innocent horizons.
What it turned out to be was a chance to realize that I was in no hurry to get my driver’s license if this was what the future held. To accept that babysitting, while NOT my favorite way to spend time, was a way better way to earn a few bucks than this embarrassing gig.
It was also a chance to cultivate my keen sense of smell – to realize that men can be identified by their particular sweat – and to know that, should I ever come across that dreadful-smelling brand of French Canadian cigarettes again, I’ll be immediately transported to a certain hot hay field on Orcas Island where, to my chagrin, I proved my ineptitude as a professional driver.
Several weeks after haying was over, my sister came up to me and handed me an envelope. I eagerly tore it open and found myself staring at a woefully tiny paycheck. Turns out the owner of OH NO took the cost of the run-over hay bales out of my check.
I stared at my pathetic wages and looked up at my sister. “FOURTEEN DOLLARS?” I asked her.
But she didn’t answer. She was too busy trying not to laugh.
I was mad. I thought of the sweaty men, and the nasty cigarettes and the hot, yellow fields under the summer sun. I thought of OH NO, and the grinding gear shifts and the non-power-steering. And then, surprisingly, a little part of me smiled.
I had survived.
And I came out with a great story to tell.