Friday, August 17, 2018

Helping Out / First Job

Even though I had graduated from school, the Somerset County Amish still had what they called vocational classes which we had to attend every Wednesday forenoon until our fifteenth birthday. We had to keep a diary of everything we did during the week and hand it in to the teacher, and then we had algebra and German and English lessons. I was glad to be able to go back to school the first day since I had always loved school but it soon became an aggravation to deal with every Wednesday when I had other things that I would have rather been doing.

After school had been going for a few weeks and things were getting into routine at home. I was starting to really like not having to go to school everyday. It seemed nice to be at home with Mom and being able to visit without being interrupted by my younger brothers. There was still a lot of canning to do with sweetcorn, beans, peaches and apples.

One afternoon as we were canning peaches we heard a buggy pull into the driveway. When we looked to see who it was we saw a neighbor that lived right next to the schoolhouse. Daddy went to see what he wanted while Mom and I kept on peeling peaches.

As the buggy drove away Daddy came and said that Joe wanted to know if they could hire me to help out with the canning since his wife had too much work to handle on her own especially with so many little children. I wasn't enthused about the idea at all. Everything was always so dirty around their home that I cringed at the very thought of having to work there. When Daddy asked Mom if she could spare me for a week or two she didn't answer right away, so I voiced my opinion of how there was no way I wanted to go work for that family.

That was all it took. Mom's mouth set in a firm line and said. "Yes, I think I can manage just fine. It would be a good experience for Mary Ann."

I wished I had kept my big mouth shut but knew the matter was settled.

The next morning I walked to school with my brothers and stopped at Joe's house. As I went to the door his wife came to meet me. As I stepped inside I could see she really did need help. There were multiple bushels of peaches on the floor waiting to be canned. Dishes were piled high on the sink, the floors and walls looked as if they hadn't seen water and soap for years, the children hung on her skirts and looked at me with their dirty faces and their clothes were even dirtier. In another corner there were several burlap feed sacks filled with gnarled wormy apples. But worst of all were the flies. They were swarming over everything I tried to keep them off of me but soon gave up since the only way to get any work done was to ignore them even if they crawled and buzzed all around and over you.

The first thing she wanted to have done was have the dishes washed. I surveyed the endless stack and started in bravely. After spending most of the forenoon doing dishes I was relieved once I was done and she sent me to sort the peaches. All the ones that had soft spots or were starting to rot had to be canned first.

I filled up a big dishpan and sat down to start peeling them. The children had lost all sense of shyness and crowded around me to watch as I peeled peaches. They would take bites out of most of the halves before their mother put them in jars to can. I secretly vowed to not eat any peaches for lunch.

I thought the day would never end. The flies, and all the filth were almost more than I could handle as I thought of Mom at home in our clean and tidy house canning peaches by herself. Just when I thought things couldn't be more miserable I heard their five year old spitting. When I looked she was sitting on the floor and spitting on the corner of their hand towel. I didn't pay to much attention to her as she continued spitting until the next thing I knew she wiped the spit soaked corner over my face and then stood there and giggled. That was the last straw. I got up to go wash my face just as my brothers knocked on the door on their way home from school and it was time for me to go.

I was sure once Mom and Daddy heard about my day they wouldn't make me go back, but they weren't very sympathetic and the next morning found me knocking at their door again. This time  she wanted to get all those apples turned into apple sauce. As I cut the first one open I tried not to gag at the little worms and hurriedly cut them out of the apple along with the core. Since the apples were so small and gnarled there wasn't much left. She laughed and said. "Oh, we don't worry about the worms. Just quarter the apples and once they are boiled no one will even know there had been any worms there. I tried to suppress a shudder as I did what she told me but now vowed I would never eat any apple sauce at their house.

The day passed much the same as it had the previous day. The flies were almost unbearable but what annoyed me the most was that Joe was in the house all day on a chair sitting right next to me. He didn't help work but talked almost non-stop. He told a lot of utterly lame jokes and tried to show me a lot of tricks that he could do with toothpicks and various other things.

When I got home that evening I didn't even bother to ask if I had to go back because Daddy had told Joe I could work there for a few weeks until canning season was over. As I got ready for bed the days ahead looked long and bleak and I couldn't wait until my job there was done.

The next day Joe once again sat right beside me all day. This time he started commenting about what pretty hands I have. I felt like giving him a big smack, but instead tried to ignore him as I quartered apples as fast as I could. By the end of the day I was fuming and once  got home I told Daddy how frustrating it was to have Joe sitting beside me all day long. He asked me to tell him all about my day and I told him everything, not sparing any details.

This time Daddy's expression became determined and he marched out to the barn and hitched the horse to the buggy and went to tell Joe that he could help his own wife do the canning and that I would not be coming back. When he got home he handed me the money that Joe had paid for my three days of work. Two dollars a day. Daddy muttered that it wasn't enough for what I had to endure but I didn't really care as long as I didn't have to go back to that miserable house everything was fine again.


  1. Shew!! Just reading this made me cringe...sorry the pay wasn't enough but not having to go back was the bonus!

  2. I am sorry that you had all of that to endure, Mary Ann, but thankful that your dad willingly listened to what you had to share about Joe and did something about it.

  3. How anyone could live in such squalor is hard to understand. I'm glad you didn't have to go back.

  4. Wow, so sorry to hear that you had to go there to work. It sounds unbearable. I'm glad your dad had a change of mind and heart and allowed you to stop going there to work.

  5. Oh, ugh! How could Joe just sit there and watch while you worked? I'll be he never lifted a finger to help his poor overwhelmed wife, either. I could rant some more, but . . .

  6. This was the worst job ever! I couldn't have done it. I feel sorry for those poor little kids who were growing up thinking this was the right way to live. So glad your dad listened to you.

  7. Glad you did not have to keep going there.

    Could the Church community not have helped this Family?
    (I am presuming they were Amish if he was driving a buggy)
    Or is it a case of not being able to interfere?


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