restricted access 6 Pickle Factory Crew

From: In a Pickle

University of Wisconsin Press colophon
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After sorting, boxing, and weighing the few sacks of cucumbers the Patterson family had delivered, the pickle factory crew waited for the first truckload of cucumbers from Jake Stewart’s place. J. W. Johnson had called and said the truck was on its way and that he’d be at the factory when it arrived, “to make damn sure everything goes the way it’s supposed to.” Andy thought, The arrogant bastard. I’ve been running this place for four years and he wants to tell me how to sort cucumbers. While they were waiting, Agnes, Blackie, and Quarter Mile Sweet pulled some pickle crates together and began playing cards. “Quarter Mile—you don’t know how to play poker, do ya?” Blackie asked. Blackie didn’t appreciate newcomers at the factory, especially college kids. He thought anyone going to college was a sissy and looking for a way to get out of work. “Yeah, I know how to play poker,” Quarter Mile said. “How about you, Preacher, you good for a game of poker?” Blackie asked. “Cards are the devil’s work,” Preacher said smugly. “The devil’s work.” 42 6 Pickle Factory Crew 43 Pickle Factory Crew “Suit yourself—may be the devil’s work, but it’s the people’s fun,” Blackie said, grinning. Preacher turned and walked toward the factory office without saying anything. “All right, we start with a little five-card stud,” Blackie said. “Throw a nickel in the pot to get us started.” Blackie tossed a nickel on the burlap bag they’d spread across a wooden pickle crate. “You in, Agnes?” Blackie asked. His tone of voice changed when he talked to Agnes. He knew better than to mess with her; he knew she’d put him in his place, as she had a few times before . He remembered the first summer he worked at the pickle factory. He had said something about why such an old woman was allowed to do man’s work. You’d have thought he’d hit a stick against a wasp’s nest. She bristled up, grabbed him by the shoulders , and looked him straight in his dark eyes. Her usual good humor completely vanished. “Listen to me, you little bastard—I’ll do my job, you do your job. And you keep your big mouth shut about what’s woman’s work and what’s men’s work. You understand?” Blackie was so stunned by Agnes’s reaction that all he could think to do was shake his head up and down. Since that first bit of personal communication between Agnes and Blackie, they had gotten along fine. “Yeah, I’m in,” Agnes said, tossing in a nickel. Quarter Mile followed with his nickel, and Blackie began dealing. “Say,” Agnes said, her eyes sparkling, “did you hear the one about the fella who walks into a restaurant and asks the cook how he prepares their chickens?” Quarter Mile, a good straight man, said, “No, don’t think I have.” “‘Well,’ the cook replies, ‘we don’t do nothin’ special. We just tell ’em they’re gonna die.’” There were groans all around as Blackie continued dealing the cards. Andy thought this would be a good time to check on the condition of the rest of the pickle vats. He wanted to make sure the iron rods holding the wooden tanks together were tight and not slipping, and that there weren’t any broken boards on the vat covers . These cover boards were forever breaking because workers piled boxes on top of them. Helen Swanson sat at her desk in the office. A big, new colorful poster was thumbtacked to the wall behind her: a picture of a farm kitchen with a white-haired woman working over a woodstove , having just removed a jar of cucumbers from the canner on the stove. Big red words shouted: “Mother Harlow Knows Good Dill Pickles.” “May I come in?” Preacher asked. “Sure, come on in,” Helen motioned to the one wooden chair that sat alongside the old, badly scarred wooden desk. “You . . . you’re crying,” Preacher blurted out. “No, something in the air is bothering me.” “Anything you want to talk about?” Preacher asked quietly. Helen’s blonde hair came nearly to her shoulders. Her usually bright blue eyes were red and swollen. “No . . . no, I don’t think so.” Helen fumbled with some papers on the desk and put them in a neat pile. “Nobody understands...


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