A TERRIBLE, AWFUL, VERY BAD SUMMER JOB
At the advanced age of 14 (1946), I learned about detasseling corn, which paid better than other jobs I'd been offered. However, the opportunity was available for a short window of time because pollination occurs only about 10 days of the maturation process.
As the green corn ripens in the field, it develops tassels which grow at the top of the plant. Those tassels produce pollen. Such planted rows are "male" rows. In order to make "hybrid" corn, female rows are needed to receive the pollen of the male rows.
To crossbreed types of corn, tassels need to be removed from designated rows to become those female rows that make the hybrid seeds. Three to four consecutive rows will have the tassels removed and now become the female rows. Those female rows are sandwiched between one row of the male on each side.
It sounded easy enough to simply walk through corn rows and pull out the tassels. My cousin, Betty, and I went together and applied. They were glad to see us coming for we were both tall for our age which would be helpful in reaching the tassels. We were also young; therefore we were naive to the challenges of the job. So together we went off to the corn field.
Our day started at dawn. We were told to wear sturdy shoes, long pants and long sleeved shirts. We needed to bring our own lunch and we should come to the farm implement store to begin our day. There we boarded a hay wagon which was pulled by an old pickup truck and driven by our "straw boss".
Let me tell you about that boss! She had the voice of a man, dressed like a man (bib overalls, blue denim shirt and straw hat) and looked like a man. She was, indeed, in command of this venture.
We sat on benches which lined the sides of the hay wagon. We were a happy group of teenage girls looking forward to our day of easy work, and we sang camp songs with gusto all the way to the field for the sun felt nice and we anticipated the big check we would receive for simply riding about the countryside.
When we got to the field, we were given our orders. We would enter the row assigned to us by the straw boss. ALL TASSELS were to be removed from our assigned rows; she expected each row to be over 99% free of tassels!
Now the fun began. Entering that very first row exposed us to some challenges we did not expect. The atmosphere within the confines of that row of corn was dark, damp, uncomfortable and smelled musty. There was not a chance the sun could reach the daily deposit of dew. Within minutes my clothes were wet and my shoes and socks squishy and uncomfortable. Pulling the tassels from the corn plant was not easy; my hands got tired from the task and my arms ached from constantly reaching upward. What did I get myself into!!!
The corn was taller than I expected; I really felt sorry for the shorter girls. The leaves of the corn plant were sturdy and the edges sharp. Care was needed to protect any exposed skin from getting cut and there were plenty of mosquitoes and horse flies looking for a taste of that skin. It did not matter if it rained because we were already wet from head to toe. Every sunny day made our faces a shade darker than the day before.
There were no assigned toilet facilities, nor were there water faucets. The hay wagon was our lunch room. It was imperative to bring a bottle of water or a thermos of beverage in our lunch box. I also brought gloves to make pulling the tassels a bit easier and a spare pair of socks in my lunch box to change into at lunch time.
Day after day we returned to the fields. Some of the girls quit but most of us stuck it out for the duration of the detasseling season -- about eleven ten-hour days. The pay check was not bad for a kid but, after our experience, we did not plan to return the next year.
My brother-in-law was the organist at our church. He had a rear view mirror by his organ in which he could view the balcony (to aid when the choir occupied that area). Betty and I attended church following our venture and sat in the balcony. He did not recognize our tanned faces and wondered who the two Indians were in the third row!
Laura W. Berglund
Copyright July 2019