Saturday, August 29, 2009

In Which I Fulfill My Destiny...

We knew it was coming when we saw the little red splotches on the highway. And when we saw the trucks, filled to the brim, we reckoned it wouldn't be too much longer. So when the clipboard came around, we knew our number was up and we resignedly signed our names.

Yes, it was Tomato Time at the Sacramento Cannery!

Oh the joys of serving. It's a labor of love for the less fortunate. If you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you know the drill. Some people get to pick grapes. Some pick apples. Some get to harvest nuts. (Some go nuts.) We here in Sacramento get to can tomatoes.

It's quite an interesting process really...really. Fascinating process watching those tomatoes being offloaded from the trucks, picked over, washed, dunked in hot water and then picked over again and then making their way to the canning jars to be canned whole or made into tomato sauce. Fascinating.

Especially if you happen to be put at the conveyor belt where they are coming out of the hot water bath. Especially if you happen to be put in the front of the line, where they are sliding down the ramp and land with a little "sploosh" and splatter little red juice all over your little white plastic apron (and your arms, and your face), which is supposed to protect your from the splatters, but never quite seems to stay in place so you are constantly pulling it back into place with your tomatoey fingers and in the process getting more of the juice all over yourself. And then you get an itch on your nose and since there is juice all over your little blue gloves, you try to find some dry spot on your shirt on which to itch, but the only dry place is where you can't reach, which is your back.

So I stood at the conveyor belt for 3 hours and 23 minutes, watching tomatoes go by and picking out the ones with skin still left on them and putting them in another part of the conveyor belt. And at first it was kind of fun. I had earplugs in and so did everyone else, so since no one could hear me I belted out a few Veggie Tales songs as I was sorting the Bob's. Sometimes as I would pick up a half-peeled orb, the skin would slip the rest of the way off and I would think "that little tomato didn't want to end up as sauce. It wanted to fulfill it's destiny as being a whole peeled tomato." (Those thoughts started coming after about the first 30 minutes.) Then after awhile I started thinking about how monotonous it was getting to be (after about the first 31 minutes). Then I started thinking, "what if I had to do this all day, every day, for 8 hours straight?" What if I had been born before labor laws and had to do this for 14 hours straight? What if I had been born in the Deep South before the Civil War? What if I had been born with black skin in the Deep South before the Civil War? What if I had been born in Africa and had been taken captive and had been shipped to America on a slave ship to the Deep South before the Civil War?

In case you were wondering why my thoughts went thus, we are studying the Civil War this year and I had just read an account of a slave woman who served as the head cook in the house where she was in servitude. She rose at 4am and worked until 11pm. She slept in a stable on hay on the floor, with men and women all in there together. When she put the food on her master's table she trembled in fear because if he didn't like what she made, he either whipped her, or made her eat every bite while he was standing there. And then there were other matters not to be discussed in civil company...except that many of the little negro children looked an awful lot like the master.

Sometimes I complain because my husband doesn't like what I make for dinner...that is, if I make dinner, which I haven't done much of lately. Actually because my husband has been making dinner lately. And sometimes I complain because I have to get up at six to get my kids up for seminary...only to go back to sleep once they are out the door.

I have such a hard life.

Lucky me. I was not born in the Deep South before the Civil War. Or in Africa. Lucky me. I was born in America. In the latter days. After liberty was won. After the gospel was restored. After labor laws were put in place. I was born a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

So I could fulfill my destiny of canning tomatoes.


Jami said...

I've been unable to eat canned tomatoes since I was at the front of the line at the cannery one day. The thought still turns my stomach. I think I must have been pregnant at the time. I go for clean-up these days, if I can.

Great pictures.

Yvonne said...

I am soooooooo glad you are blogging again. You always give me so much to think about. Thank you.

I, too, am very glad I was born when I was born in America. I'm also very grateful I found the Gospel and was touched when I heard it.

(I have worked at the Church farm doing peaches, never tomatoes.