The summer after fifth grade two major events in the Daniel household precipitated what would become the most hated summer job of all time:
- The Daniel kids got a Nintendo and became wholly obsessed in a grumpy, eye-glazed kind of way with getting that princess out of the castle; and
- My little brother repeated an off color “Mexican joke” he learned from school when we drove past a field of hard-working migrant families.
Boom! Just like that, long, lazy days of sleeping in, reading too many books and doing whatever we pleased came to an abrupt halt. The next week, my brother, sister and I found ourselves getting up with our farmer dad, filling up water jugs after breakfast, and getting dumped at the end of a massive peanut field with the sole goal of hand-weeding pesky melon plants called citrons.
Let me not romanticize this for you. I am not talking about a “gentleman’s garden” — I am talking about a full-scale, commercial-production-sized peanut field. A field so big that a squat little fifth grader can’t see to the other end of it. And the citron problem was a real thing: we quickly found that there were so many that we had to scoot along on our hands and knees pulling weeds.
Oh, how we complained! We complained and complained. And so, sure enough, when we got done with the first massive field in a week or two, another field was in need of weeding. And then another. And those peanut plants grew. They grew into peanut bushes that brushed against your legs and made them itch, necessitating jeans in the hot Georgia sun. And because the sun got so hot, peanut weeding had to begin early. And early in the morning, those peanut plants were covered in dew, dew that soaked your jeans and your sneakers and your socks. The first thing we would do around 10:30 or 11 when my dad came and freed us from the field was peel off soaked shoes and socks and jeans, and then count the joyous hours until we had to get up and do it again.
Occasionally, we had some good times. My dad’s friend Charlie sometimes came out there with us “to keep an eye on us” — and he would entertain us with stories of scandalous rated R movies we weren’t allowed to see. A few times dad delivered delicious lemonade to us from my mom or my grandmother. And, after a hot up-down row, there was an undeniable joy in sticking your head under a water spigot for lovely, cool relief. But – for the most part – this job was terrible. I hated almost every single moment of it. Trust me when I tell you it sounds better than it really was.
For years, I was angry that my dad made us do that — for three summers! I hated farming. I hated dew soaked clothes. I hated the fact that I was a girl looking gross and sweaty at a stage when I was obsessed with brushing my frizzy, non-model hair 1000 times a day. I hated it so much that I found every single reason I could to make myself industrious and scarce in the summer. 4-H Camp was like a spa retreat, so I engaged in every summer 4-H activity I could. I did church camps and school activities and anything that gave the appearance of usefulness and service to others. I ran from those peanut fields like the devil himself was chasing me.
I also never again said a disparaging thing about a field worker, and I learned an important lesson about judging people with a harder row to hoe than me. I’m not going to lie and tell you I’ve never thought or said something spoiled or stupid or snobby — I’m a middle class American and have the same poison of entitlement that we all do — but, good golly, I learned some self-control about it. If I’m not willing to step into someone else’s shoes I’m careful about what I say about them, because, well, sometimes those shoes are dew-soaked and heavy and not fun at all to wear.
So – why am I reminiscing about this? To prove that I am better than you? A harder worker? Hardly (though I may have a better dad than you did – that’s pretty possible). I’m saying all of this because I am looking around America and I’m seeing:
- A whole country obsessed in a grumpy, bleary-eyed kind of way with whatever the latest technology is in their pocket; and
- A lot of people using their virtual microphones to make hot-and-judgy comments about people whose reality they would not actually want to live.
And I’m far from a prophet – so let’s just call what I am about to say an observation – but – America! To the rest of the world, you are the good farmer’s daughter, privileged in ways you cannot imagine! And, at least to the remnant that is Christian out there – you know what comes next:
Trading places with those you would disparage.
So listen, I can tell you that peanut fields are good for the soul, but I can also tell you that you would rather not weed them if you don’t have to. I can tell you that it is to all of our benefit to put down the devices, to put down the condescension, to pick up some empathy, and to get busy serving something greater than ourselves and our need to free the princess from the castle.
I’ll weed the peanut fields with you if I have to, but – I’d rather not.
Let’s get moving before it’s too late.
“The Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”