The Need to Work Starts When Young

Kids can’t go out to pick prunes and apricots anymore, but they can…

I have some interesting historical articles that I want to post in the next several weeks, but first I thought I would write a little sidebar to my last post titled .

Those of us who worked on the fruit farms here in the Valley years ago were privileged to receive a practical education, the value of which for many of us cannot be overstated. Since the book, The Last of the Prune Pickers: A Pre-Silicon Valley Story, came out, I have received many letters that express that thought. Nearly without exception, the writers of those letters express regret that what we experienced is no longer available to young people today. I could not agree more.

Actually, that is why I wrote the book. Although the book is purchased most often by or for those of us who are a little older, it was really written for the young people, and it is my hope that it will be passed on to them. In the epilog I wrote, “I did not desire to merely write of old times and ways, but rather wanted to put down something…that is of lasting value.”

As much as we would have liked to, my wife and I could not give our children the same experience I had working on the farm. What I have written in this article is not in the book, but I’ll share with you what we did in raising our children in order to give them a practical education. I think every parent grapples with this.

We received a lot of help from some older parents when we were raising our kids, and I hope this is an encouragement to some of you who are raising children.

We had two areas of focus which we established when the children were very young:

First, we were all a family and everyone pulled their weight. Everyone had work to do that contributed to the family and enabled the household to function. No one ever did anything that would undermine that. Our son and daughter grew up with this understanding and practice.

Second, we let the children know that just as Mommy and Daddy worked, they had a job too. Their job was their education. From very early on we took them to every Friends of the Library sale. We came home with shopping bags full of good books (which cost almost nothing) and the children were never without having quality books in front of them. We did not own a television, so that was not a distraction. Ditto on electronic toys and junk food. Both children became good readers early, read most of the books on their teachers’ suggested reading lists, and read many more books on a wide variety of subjects as well. They have loved good books ever since.

The children went to summer school every year and had meaningful classes—art, science, language, etc. We always discussed what they were learning with them. Sports were a reward, a privilege. If they did their schoolwork well, they could participate, and as long as we kept them challenged there was no problem.

We never emphasized grades; our emphasis was entirely on learning. Also, we did not emphasize getting the right answers for test questions, but instead tried to train them how to think and ask the right questions. All we required of the children was that whatever they did, they were to do it to the best of their ability. (Both later graduated from UC.)

We always had a lot of fun together too, and I don’t doubt that that was because we did not make recreation a priority. Recreation served us; we did not serve it. When we came home from a vacation (which we always loved), everyone had their stuff put away within an hour. We were all ready and eager to get back to our regular routine. Only the laundry remained, which we all did when it came to our turn.

By the time they were sixteen, the children were well prepared to take a first summer job—our son bagged groceries, and both of the kids waited on tables at local restaurants.

Frankly, it was hard work keeping up with them and there were some rough spots too. (Whew!) But the sacrifice sure paid off!

Oh yes, I almost forgot—we planted a backyard full of fruit trees too, so we always had fresh fruit! A treat enjoyed by all!

At least a little bit of the farm came through. And I hope a lot more.

BTW: both kids thanked us later that we didn’t have a TV when they were growing up.


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