ShatterZone - a Fiction: Pickin' Maters with McKinley


McKinley Massey, Big Pine, 1981.


We don’t start until 9:30 or 10,
late in the day for farm work.
Even then, the plants are heavy with dew,
our clothes soaked before we finish the first row.

It’s the usual crew.
Mckinley and his two daughters, their husbands,
a neighbor and his elderly parents.
And a few hippie types, I don’t know why.

The men drink warm PBR throughout the morning.
How do they do it and still work?
They do.
Never missing a beat. 

Finished Picking, from left, Chuck Durdin, Jeff Johnson, Mckinley Massey, Ish Massey, Charles Massey, Jerry Reed, Big Pine, 1981.

Ish, the old guy, is mostly there for the beer.
He smokes a pipe, which he packs with a mix of PA and pot.
He doesn’t pick many maters, but he’s funny
and everyone likes having him around.

There’s a constant banter in the field.
The daughters are hilarious.
The talk occupies the mind,
distracting you from your reality.

Culling and Cleaning, Big Pine, 1981.

Hot, muggy, and dirty best describes the work.
Maters coated with a toxic layer of chemical poisons.
Only way you can grow ‘em around here, McKinley says.
My eyes itch and I cough a lot.

He’s a bit of a renegade, McKinley is,
maybe contrarian is better.
Beyond skinny, consumptive almost, but stout,
with long ropey muscles and huge hands.

Picking done, we go to the house for dinner.
Pearl, his wife, has laid out a feed.
After, a short rest, and then back outside,
culling, cleaning and packing.

Dinnertime, Big Pine, 1981

I do this for a couple of summers,
two days a week throughout the season.
At first I think of it as school, learning ways of man.
By the end it’s more about being a neighbor.