bean fields

Winning the Golden Kiwi
by Mercedes Webb-Pullman

At 14, I was too young for the traditional school holiday jobs; on the line at Rothman’s cigarette factory or Watties canneries, so I went bean picking — we all did, my younger brothers and sisters, Mum and I.

Mum chose the paddock we’d work in; close to us and a strip pick were best. Though it paid less than a first pick, we picked every bean, no decisions to make. It was hard work, hot and tiring in full sun.

I worked next to Mrs. Kingi, who came to work each Thursday in her best clothes,
a pink polyester pants suit. I asked her why.

“When I win the Golden Kiwi lottery,” she said, “and the press comes to take my picture, I don’t want them to see my old clothes. That would be a shame.”

We teased Mrs. Kingi on Thursdays. We’d call out “Is that the press?” and she’d look around, patting her hair, then realize we were being smart. She really believed she was going to win.

I felt bad about teasing when I saw her eyes. Like a kid you don’t want to tell about Santa Claus, then one day you do out of spite, and you hate yourself for their broken-hearted look.

One Wednesday, when she was wearing old clothes like us, she fell. The ambulance came right to her row, siren blaring. All I could see was Mrs. Kingi’s foot. Her shoe had fallen off; her sole showed pink through a hole in the heel of her sock. The siren was silent when they left.

We all dressed in good clothes to go to work next day. Somehow it wasn’t surprising that lots of pickers had dressed up for Mrs. Kingi.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: These are the New Zealand fields I worked in — Napier, my home town, in the distance.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My first jobs were in the fields and orchards of Hawkes Bay, picking vegetables and fruit for the local canneries. I picked potatoes, beans, tomatoes, beetroot, asparagus, strawberries, apples, pears, and peaches each summer weekend and for the six-week school holidays, for years. It was hard, hot work. Nothing in life since has ever tasted as good as the hokey pokey ice cream cones from the Meeanee dairy on the way home.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mercedes Webb-Pullman started writing in 2007. She gained her Diploma in Creative Writing from Whitireia, 2009, and graduated from IIML Victoria University with MA in Creative Writing 2011. Her work has appeared in Turbine, 4th Floor, Swamp, Reconfigurations, The Electronic Bridge, Otoliths, Connotations, The Red Room, Typewriter, and Silver Birch Press, among others, and in her books. She lives on the Kapiti Coast, New Zealand.