All I wanted was a job. I had spent a couple of summers picking up aluminum cans along roadsides, and while I did enjoy the fruits of my labor, at 15 years old, I was ready for the big time; the kind of big time that only three-dollars and thirty-five cents an hour would bring. A boy my age with that kind of summer money was surely just one step away from a mustache, muscle car, and all the girls he could ask for.
My first attempt to secure employment was unsuccessful. A man by the name of Mr. Turbeville raised tomatoes on a plot of land just a block or so from my house. He'd turned his panache for gardening into a thriving, roadside enterprise that required several summer employees. He provided my older brother with his first job, so I thought I'd give it a try.
I'd always heard that Mr. Turbeville was a bit on the rough and tough side. He was a hard-as-nails tomato man, so it's no wonder I don't remember meeting the man. My brain has successfully protected my fragile psyche.
My mom walked me over to the Turbeville field, and that's when my memory goes blank. I do know that Turbeville carefully selected his summer employees. He must have had a checklist a mile long in his mind, and, to this day, no one is certain what qualified one as a bonafide tomato picker.
I can imagine him hunched over me in his dungy, fatigued overalls while pointing his cricked, dirt caked finger nail at my nose. Looking at my chubby cheeks, my soft, rotund body, and clean hands, he must have looked at me and said, "So, ya think ya can pick my tomatoes, huh?"
"Uh… well, I… uh…," I responded.
"I bet you're in the school band, ain't ya?" he taunted.
Well, as a matter of fact… yeah, I was in the band. But I played the trombone. I mean my right arm was exercised everyday in the tomato picking motion. But that didn't matter. I wasn't Turbeville material. I'm sure I walked away from that field slouch-shouldered and dejected. Actually, I do remember that part. My hopes for summer cash were dashed. In the end, however, it was probably best for us all.
I went on to garner a couple of very interesting jobs for a boy of 15. I fared better than if I'd have worked for Turbeville, at least financially.
Mr. Turbeville is no longer with us. I sometimes wish I could see him and ask, "What was it? What did you see in me? Or, rather, what did you not see in me? Twenty four years later, and I am probably still not prepared for the answer. I, like many other teenage boys, had his hopes dashed like so many mushy tomatoes in the grass. How would my life have turned out different? Better? Worse?
I'll never know. But I still think of Mr. Turbeville every summer during the height of tomato season.