I’m From the Government, and I’m Here to Help — Suzanne Temple


I was recently struck by all those photos of hundreds (if not thousands) of kids in New York wearing bright yellow T-shirts, holding signs that read “save our schools.” As you probably know, Mayor Bill de Blasio has been attempting to render three successful charter schools homeless. Why? It’s for the kids, of course. As his office tweeted out, they want to make “sure that all our kids get a great education.” I wonder what those kids in their yellow T-shirts are learning from all this. I wonder if it’s anything like what I learned as a kid.
I was eight years old the first summer that my family went to pick fruit in Washington state. It was the ’80s. It could’ve been around the time when President Reagan was quipping about the nine most terrifying words in the English language: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” I’d never heard those words, but in the coming years I would learn what he meant.
I suppose sociologists would’ve called us migrant farm laborers, but to us and everyone in the Tri-cities and Yakima valley we were simply cherry pickers. Our first summer, a family we knew helped us find work at the orchards they’d picked in years past. Their youngest daughter was my age and we became fast friends. Being little, I don’t remember much about that first summer. But I do remember I had my sights set on a purple bicycle with pink tassels on the handlebars that I’d seen at Toys “R” Us. I needed to pick $80 worth of cherries to buy it. And I did. Best bike I’ve ever owned.
We went back several summers thereafter. My parents required that my brothers and I pay for our own clothes and school supplies for the year, but all money we earned beyond that was ours. Though I liked making money, it was the after-work hours I enjoyed the most. At one orchard, my brothers and I would spend our late afternoons playing wiffle ball with a family from Oklahoma whose kids had such thick southern accents that I doubted they were speaking English at all. I recall another family we hung out with in several orchards. They had it tough. The mom was from Mexico and didn’t speak a word of English. Her husband had run off and left her with their two sons, who were close to my age. Along with her uncle, she and her sons picked cherries like their lives depended on it. In a way, I guess they did.
And then the government came to help.
I was probably around 14 years old when we were picking in an orchard where the foreman told us to leave. State law had changed, and my brothers and I were now not old enough to work. I suppose lawmakers didn’t like the idea of “child labor”—and wasn’t it awful that we were around tractors, ladders, and other things that grade-school kids think are cool? Fortunately, we had gotten to know a few growers who were willing to make an exception for us. But we agreed to always keep an eye out for anyone who came strolling into the orchard looking like they might be from some government agency.
In the summers that followed, we were the only family. The crews became uniformly single men or men away from their families. I wondered whatever happened to the family from Oklahoma, the Mexican mom with her sons, and the family who showed us the ropes that first year. I remember thinking that it was all so stupid. Families needed to earn a living. Why wouldn’t the government let them? Did politicians really have nothing better to do than try to save kids from earning money for pink-tasseled bicycles?
Apparently, not much has changed. Bureaucrats are now trying to save children from attending the charter schools they love. Politicians are here to help you, kids. They want to make sure you get a good education by closing down the schools where you’re getting a good education. Thanks for the help, government.

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  1. Gretchen Member

    Great illustration, Suzanne.

    But I’m left with curiosity about your story. What was your situation? Did both your parents also pick cherries? If so, what did they do the rest of the year? Did you live in commuting distance from the orchards where you worked?

    Did you have friends who as children also earned the money for their clothes and school supplies? Did you take pride in doing that or did you feel “put upon”?

    Please, tell us  more!

    • #1
  2. Suzanne Temple Member
    Suzanne Temple

    Thanks, Gretchen. So much more to write than can fit into one blog post! My family lived out of state. We had a small farm but it didn’t need harvesting or anything much over the summer, so we’d travel to Washington to pick cherries where we could earn a lot of money–or at least it seemed like a lot of money to us that didn’t have much. We’d stay in the orchards with the rest of the crews, sometimes at local campgrounds, and so forth.  Sometimes it was great fun traveling around and camping, but other times it was just a lot of dusty orchards and outhouses. I never felt “put upon” though. I think when a family is low-income (particularly in farmlands) it seems just normal that everyone in the family should contribute.

    • #2
  3. Gretchen Member

    Thanks, Suzanne. We lost something when children stopped feeling like they had important contributions to make to the family well-being, either by earning money or doing chores. I’ve heard it said thst farm families are the best at passing on the family’s values precisely because the chidlren are expected to contribute.

    • #3
  4. Snirtler Member

    Interesting post, thanks!

    • #4
  5. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    Suzanne Temple:

    My parents required that my brothers and I pay for our own clothes and school supplies for the year, but all money we earned beyond that was ours.

     Thanks for sharing Suzanne.

    How did you know how much clothes and school supplies would cost for the year? Did your parents tell you how much it was, or did you figure it out for yourselves?

    • #5
  6. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards

    Great story and an important point. Even if the government has good intentions (and that is not always the case), they can’t know what is best for every situation.

    And I loved this line, “They want to make sure you get a good education by closing down the schools where you’re getting a good education.” How do politicians miss the irony of what they are doing?

    • #6
  7. Gretchen Member

    They don’t care about the irony. They have two motives:

    1. They have no control over the values being imparted in charter schools. 
    2. Charter school teachers are not unionized and so do not contribute to Democrat candidates.

    • #7
  8. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards

    Yes, if you want truth in advertising, they should get rid of the “Save Our Schools” signs and replace them with “Save Our Unions.” After all, it is not “about the children,” it is “about the dues.”

    • #8
  9. Umbra Fractus Member
    Umbra Fractus

    I don’t think there’s any better issue for exposing, and hopefully widening, the divide between the true socialists and the misguided altruists who vote for them. The more we can push back against the idea that they “care” the better off we’ll be.

    Note: Here I mean altruist in the common usage, not the Randian sense.

    • #9
  10. Athena Member

    Your story reminds me of the autobiographical Little Britches, by Ralph Moody, set in 1906.  The children in that family made money by picking berries after their father died.  Their mother started a business making food to order in her little kitchen; they supported themselves with tenacity and ingenuity and most definitely without any government interference.  That story could never have been written now because the family would be on food stamps and Medicaid, live in government housing, and go to sub-par public schools.

    • #10
  11. user_1029039 Member

    I too lost my first job because I and my little brother were both underage. We used to clean the public library across the street after hours. Those early work experiences, at some kind of simple task, are sorely missing in the make-up of young Americans of the future.

    • #11
  12. user_1029039 Member

    Also, $80 was serious money back then. You must have been a good little worker.

    • #12
  13. Pony Convertible Member
    Pony Convertible

    Now they are pushing for a “Living Wage”.  If all jobs pay a living wage, how is a kid who isn’t trying to make a living, but only wants to buy a bike, ever going to be able to find a job?  They seem to forget that the minimum wage is always zero.

    • #13
  14. Suzanne Temple Member
    Suzanne Temple

    Hi “Rattlesnake,” My parents helped us figure it out after the season ended. No set $ amount. My brothers and I learned how to bargain shop pretty quick! Of course our parents made sure we didn’t do anything stupid like buying cheap fall-apart shoes or no socks.

    • #14
  15. Suzanne Temple Member
    Suzanne Temple

    Thanks Athena. I’ve not read the Little Britches story. But I did pick strawberries one time. It was when we couldn’t pick cherries that day. That was awful! Very hot and lots of dirt. We made hardly any money that day. I have a lot of sympathy for people who have to pick berries.

    • #15
  16. Suzanne Temple Member
    Suzanne Temple

    Yes, “Convertible,” the term “living wage” is so loosey-goosey. What is that supposed to mean? A “living wage” for a father with three kids just immigrated to the U.S. is totally different than what a “living wage” would be for a 21 year old living at home going to college and still on his parent’s insurance plans. I don’t care much for the one-size-fits-all approach. I’m guessing, neither do you :)

    • #16
  17. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl

    We children all worked along with our parents on our little farm in the 60s and didn’t get paid. However, we all knew that if we didn’t do our share, then one of our overworked parents had to do even more stuff. Actually, I got “paid”…I had a bed to sleep in and meals three times a day. We were proud to be able to contribute. I think that the city boys I teach in school these days could all benefit from having some lambs to feed or cows to milk twice a day. It gives you self-confidence to do real work. It lets you know that you’re important because you are depended on to take care of something real, every day. It also motivates you to get a good education so that you won’t have to show up at that barn every morning at 5:30 A.M. the rest of your life!

    • #17

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