Over the years I have had many different jobs. None of them stand out as being ‘the best.’ I’m sure I am expected to say — being a mother — and yes, that was by far the most challenging and life changing job I have ever undertaken, but was it the best? I loved helping my children to grow and develop into the human beings they are today. [without google] We survived it all and my children don’t have too many physical or emotional scars. I certainly wasn’t the perfect mother, as my children can tell you. It’s all trial and error in the midst of becoming a better person yourself.
The many, varied admin roles I have had over the years felt like marking time. My years at the Red Cross Blood Bank were a little more interesting. I got to meet so many people, even if it was only for fifteen minutes while they bled into a little bag. Even that became mind-numbing and repetitive after a while.
Working as a Youth Pastor for twenty or so years could be expected to win the opinion poll. I worked with young people shaping and moulding their thinking, giving them positive experiences like playing music, camping, game nights, leadership training etc. A positive alternative to hanging out at the skate park and our attempt to prevent them getting involved with risk taking behaviour. But no, although that was very rewarding, that was not the best either. It may sound quite strange, but the best job I had was fruit picking.
Both children were in school and I needed some cash, Christmas was fast approaching. Glyn’s wage was covering our bills with not much over. I had learned to be thrifty, cooking meals from scratch, buying in bulk at the cheapest shops. I learned to sew to make children’s track suits and pj’s with my mother’s old sewing machine. We scavenged wood from a friend’s farm to heat our house. We didn’t buy bread, I made it myself. You get the picture, we felt the ‘recession we had to have’ keenly. The nineties were a tough time to make ends meet.
I needed to find a job that fitted in with school drop off and pick up. I had gone back to work at the RedCross Blood Bank after our first baby was born, but it wasn’t cost effective and we all ended up exhausted and miserable. A happy, thrifty home was much better, until Christmas started looming.
I didn’t know how we were going to buy presents that year. I had been making presents for family. I had pot-pourri drying all over the house, infused vinegar and oils sitting on the window sill for six months. I lined baskets with Christmas material. I made strawberry jam from our home grown berries and filled cellophane bags with home made ‘yum yum balls’ to fill out the basket. The families were taken care of, but presents for our children?
My friend, Marg, encouraged me to join her picking fruit at a local raspberry farm. They were looking for workers and it paid five dollars an hour. That was more than I was earning with no job. Marg asked the owner, who was happy for me to try out. The owner spent a few minutes teaching me the finer points of raspberry picking, watched me pick one or two, and I was off. Raspberries have a short season in December so you literally have to make hay while the sun shines. On very hot days we would be sent home around two o’clock, not because of her concern for us, but because the raspberries started smelling like jam. The fruit was ruined.
On weekends I could start earlier, leaving the children at home with Glyn. Those were the days I enjoyed the most. The early morning mist would ghost around the canes and the leaves dripped with dew. One morning I put my hand in to feel for berries and felt something cold and clammy. I pulled it out very quickly, shuddering. I hoped it wasn’t a snake! I peeped through the leaves, and saw the most beautiful frog I had ever seen. It was like a creamy white ‘Freddo’ with gorgeous brown markings and large brown eyes. It certainly got the adrenaline pumping, I’m not good with creepy crawlies, but I do love frogs, I wished him a very good morning, thanked him for not being a snake and then left him to enjoy his breakfast and moved further down the row.
Another morning, as I neared the end of the row of canes, an enormous grey kangaroo, standing on hind legs, was looking at me. It was much taller than me and he did not look impressed. This was not a friendly mother with a joey in its pouch to ‘ooh and ahh’ over, it was an old man roo and he was not happy to have his breakfast interrupted. I froze holding my breath while he considered what to do about me. We just stared at each other, my heart beating like a trapped sparrow. After a few minutes he turned and thumped away, vanishing into the mist. I breathed again.
By mid morning the sun would banish the mist and I was left with a stunning view of the magnificent Warburton Ranges. The smoky blue hills, shrouded in soft wisps of white. Kookaburras greeted the morning with their raucous laughter while droning bees got on with their busy work.
I had been living with the sound of constant chatter for the last eight years, so the relative silence was profound and welcome. I don’t think people realise just how much time parents spend listening to the inane chatter of children. I love the chatter of children, probably more than the next person. I adore their funny pronunciations and wildly creative ideas — but until I went to pick raspberries, I didn’t realise just how much I needed a little peace and quiet. Somehow it’s not the same as when they’re in bed asleep, because you’re on call, you don’t really switch off. But once they were in school with teachers being responsible for them, or in their father’s care on a Saturday morning, and I was surrounded by raspberry canes groaning with ripened fruit, I would breathe in the fresh air and the sounds of creation like a drug.
You’d think picking fruit was mind-numbingly repetitive too, but the view across the valley was ever-changing and I was entranced. Creation itself was a healing balm to my soul.
Today, across the vines, someone would be on their phone, or I would get a call or a text to jar me back to reality. Life was so much simpler without mobile phones, and much quieter too. There was no constant need to take photos of everything, to keep a record of our lives,. We did take some photos but it was expensive getting photos developed. There was no Facebook or Twitter to update with our latest exploits, no Instagram. Just the peace and quiet of the bush and the warm summer breeze filled with the scent of ripe raspberries.
The season ended and I had saved up enough for Christmas presents. My career as a fruit picker ended. It may not have been my most productive job, I certainly didn’t change the world or preach any life-changing sermons, but it was the most enjoyable job I have ever had and by far the most peaceful.
These days I work from home and it turns out THIS is the best job! I write. Sometimes children’s stories for my grandchildren, sometimes this blog and sometimes I practice being creative in whatever shape it takes on the day. I may never write a best seller or even be a published author, but I’m enjoying the ride. Turns out being creative is a balm to my soul.
My inner critic doesn’t want me to blog, I am ignoring her and sharing some of my writing anyway. I wrote this piece for a memoir I wrote. This is the short version!
Courage beloved, courage.