Squeezing the Best From a Fruitful Job

I have to give you half?" Paul, our nine-year- old, said.

"Right," I said.

"But I do all the work."

"They're my grapefruit," I said smiling. Surely he was old enough to understand the concept of investment and return.

"But they came with the house."

"It's a grove," I said. "It's not in good shape. In fact, that's one of the things we have to do - cut out the dead branches, clean up the weeds, spread some fertilizer around...."

"Sorry, Dad," Paul said, and went back to playing catch with Patrick, his younger brother.

After supper that evening I tried another tack. "Farmers' sons have all sorts of chores," I explained. "They don't get paid for feeding the cows or driving the tractor. They pitch in, they help with the work. They...."

"But you're not a farmer," Paul said. "You're a teacher. The grapefruit are extra."

"Look at it this way," I said. "It'll be fun. You'll make some money, and so will I. We don't have to work any harder than we want to."

It was one of the reasons we'd bought the place, actually. The previous owners had made enough with their roadside stand to pay the taxes, the real estate woman had told us. A lot of people had small groves back in 1959 in central Florida, though the going price then was only 50 cents a half bushel.

"Can't do it, Dad," Paul said.

One afternoon I came home to find that Mrs. Champion, our stout, elderly neighbor, was trapped up in the top of one of our trees, the ladder having fallen.

"Couldn't bear to see all those cars stopping - and all that fruit just going to waste," she explained, after Paul and I got her down. "What you need are some workers," she said to me. And then she turned to Paul. "Robbie Fields helps his father. 'Course they get 75 cents for theirs." I gave her a bag of fruit to take home. "Sold a bushel for you, by the way," she said. "Money's in the box."

"I'll up the price to 75 cents," I said to Paul after she left. "Fifty cents for you and a quarter for me. And I'll do the lugging."

"OK," Paul said. "I guess so."

Every day for the next two weeks we filled three bushels before breakfast and three more in the late afternoon - father and son picking those sweet-smelling, dew-covered grapefruit together. And Paul was more into it now. In fact, when he got talking with the customers, I could tell he was a natural.

The work was hard, though. We'd picked all we could reach from the ground, and now we were up in the ladders, reaching for fruit and stuffing it into burlap bags that banged around our knees. We had to twist the fruit off carefully or it fell to the ground.

It was hot, dirty work - up and down, up and down. And the trees kept getting farther and farther from our stand by the road.

"It's not worth it," said Paul one evening as we trudged into the house exhausted.

"We've had the easy part," I said. "Now we've got to tough it out." It was a challenge, a test of our endurance, I explained.

The next morning we were out there as usual, Paul not looking happy at all. "I've got an idea," I said. "Why don't I stay on the ground and you throw them down to me. No bags. No going up and down." His face brightened. Pretty soon he was climbing around in the branches like a monkey, pitching the grapefruit out as if I were playing center field.

"Grape!" he would yell. And mostly I was there to catch it. In much less time than I would have thought possible, we had cleaned out the grove.

"About next year, Dad," Paul said some weeks later. I listened anxiously, aware that all Paul's spare time had been used up in picking grapefruit. Would he want a repeat of that? "I want to take over the business."

"It's yours," I said, all but slapping him on the back. "Two-thirds for you, one-third for me?" We shook on it. But how would he manage, I wondered, until I overheard him say to his younger brother, Patrick: "What do you mean it's not fair? Who do you think got us the job?"

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