walking beans


I'm currently knee-deep in Ben Sasse's book The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis, which I'd highly recommend by the way, and just read his observation that asking an adult about his first job usually kickstarts a fascinating conversation. 

That's providing, of course, that he's not a 20-year-old who's in college and hasn't yet worked a day in his life. 

Gah. 

My first job -- as a ten-year-old -- was very glamorous. Are you ready?

I walked beans for my uncle in the midst of the Iowa summer heat. 


For non-farmers, walking beans meant spreading out over a bean field to seek and destroy any weeds that would have otherwise been combined during harvest. 

Plus it made for an immaculate looking bean field. 

My mom and sister and a couple of her friends and I would meet at a certain field early in the morning before the sun got too hot. We'd drag along our hoes and water and lots of bug spray,  take 6-8 rows per person, and set out across the field to cut down any weeds that had cropped up. 

It was often wet work; the dew from the early morning made the leaves damp so before you were 50 feet into the field, you were soggy from the waist down. 

And it wasn't uncommon to step on a snake. Or a frog. We'd jump so high we'd land a row over while screaming like, well, girls. 


I walked beans every morning for several weeks. I was covered in mosquito bites. I had a solid sunburn. My shoes were soggy, and my jeans were muddy.

And I made $80.00 when it was all over. It was enough to open my first checking account. At the time, it could have been a million dollars as far as ten-year-old me was concerned. 

Most people don't walk beans anymore. I don't know if that's because of superior bean quality, better spray, or if kids are just lazy.  Maybe walking beans was never really necessary to begin with, and it was simply a good way to keep middle schoolers and teenagers busy in the summer. Hmm.

But I do know that walking over all those acres, cutting down all those weeds, stepping on all those snakes and collapsing into bed from being hot and tired earned me 80 glorious dollars and the reward of sweaty work well done. 

And I can't wait to see my children do the same. It may be working with cows or weeding in the garden or building fence. But I do want them to know what it's like to be sweaty and sunburned and bug-bitten. 

It was good for me. It will be good for them too. And you can take that to the bank. 

All $80.00 worth. 





What was your first job? 

6 comments:

  1. My first job was in fourth grade. I learned to iron on a mangle (google it if you are under 50) so I ironed all my dad's handkerchiefs, pillowcases, and tea towels. I earned a box of 64 Crayola crayons. I still have it! Dad also required all of us kids to pick strawberries and raspberries for the local farmers. We were up before dawn and worked most of the morning. I hated it, but Dad insisted that we learn how hard farmers work so we would always respect them.
    To this day, I believe our true American heroes are our armed forces, our farmers, and our public safety personnel.
    And I refuse to pick berries ever again.

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  2. Great post & prompt! My first job was in our vineyard, pulling sucker vines. My brother and I made $1/row and could do about 3 rows a morning each. We were probably 6 or 7, and my parents let us spend the money on summer camp tuition. :)

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  4. My first job was walking beans as well. I have a large immediate family and it was nothing to have 15-18 family members lined up across the field. We had no iPhones or any kind of electronic way to listen to music so we sang, we talked and laughed through every round. I started off with only 2 rows to clean. I was probably 8 years old. I worked my way up to having 8 rows. By the time I was a senior in high school, it was just my dad and I. He purchased bean buggies that we rode on through the field. I think I earned $25 my first summer. Kids today don't know what they are missing!

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  5. Babysitting. Probably had a lot to do with only having one child.

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  6. Yep, hoeing the beans, one row at a time, and many, many acres. If we weren't pulling the hoe, we were picking up rocks, throwing them onto a wagon, and then unloading the rocks at the rock pile. We found old bottles, arrowheads, pottery shards, and beer cans (though I don't think those were necessarily very old). Weeds and rocks make for "dirty beans" per my beloved grandmother. And every morning she would say, "We're purtnear done." Not.

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