Prune Harvest Memories: My Mother the Morale Officer and More

Prune season was a major event in the annual cycle of our lives. It was the culmination of our economic year and always a communal experience. These are my memories of harvest on the Taeuffer Ranch, 788 Magnolia Drive, Healdsburg, circa 1955 – 1970. –- Joanne Taeuffer

A couple of times every harvest season, my mother would help boost everybody’s energy with a shot of sugar.

One morning, she would show up in our tan Plymouth station wagon with several boxes of donuts from the legendary Flakey Cream Donut Shop in the then fairly new Mitchell Shopping Center on Center Street between North Street and Piper Street. There would be every type of donut you can imagine: plain cake donuts with a sugar glaze, big fluffy raised donuts with a sugar glaze, jelly donuts, donuts covered with chocolate or frosting and sprinkles. We were all working hard, so we would take two. They were small. Maybe three.

On the hottest afternoon of the season, the morale officer would show up again in the station wagon with gallon jugs of A&W root beer and ice cream. We’d all have root beer floats. It was still 100 degrees and the prunes were mushy as heck. But we had smiles on our faces for a few minutes.

Besides being the morale officer, mother was the paymaster. Every Friday, she would write checks for the crew. Her meticulous bookkeeping system was somewhat dependant on the donut boxes from her moral officer duties. Why? Well, the boxes got cut up into 2 inch x 3 inch pieces that became the tickets that credited the pickers for their work. Each ticket had a number written on with indelible marker and each picker had a packet of tickets about 3 inches thick, held together with a rubber band. You would slide a ticket under the handle of each box you picked. And the boxes would be stacked up to about 5 high and grouped together for easy pick up.

Mr. and Mrs. Scott (and “the girls”) were, of course, number 1. I think Stella Mae must have been number 2. I don’t know if I had a regular number but, if so, it was way down the line.

When the boxes were picked up, all the tickets were put into a coffee can with a slot cut in the plastic lid. When the orchard truck arrived at the dipper with a load of full boxes, Mother would count the tickets immediately to be sure the number of tickets corresponded to the number of boxes delivered. If there were any discrepancies, an instant audit would ensue to be sure everybody got paid for all their work.

Box counts were recorded in Mother’s ledger book and totals calculated at the end of the week.

Joanne Taeuffer
October 2017

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