Field trip to cranberry 'factory' brought new respect for mother

Kids gained respect for mom upon witnessing her at work.

| November 2007

  • Cranberry Bread and Jelly
    Cranberries are a delicious fruit used for sauces, breads, jams and jellies, and more.

  • Cranberry Bread and Jelly

One autumn, sometime between Labor Day and Halloween, we kids bundled off to school, still happy and proud in our new school clothes, while Mom, clad in jeans and a flannel shirt, caught her carpool. Where did she go? What did she do? She'd gone to work at the cranberry 'factory,' and if it hadn't been for a class field trip that same year, we never would have appreciated Mom's new job.

It wasn't really a factory, we discovered, but a series of bogs where seasonal workers harvested, sorted and shipped the crisp berries to the city for processing - or to be sold fresh across the nation in time for the winter holidays.

Wisconsin is the leading producer of cranberries in the United States, so our school administrators deemed a trek to the marsh an appropriate educational pursuit. It wasn't far, and as we disembarked from our school bus in a makeshift parking lot, the unmistakable scent of autumn hit us. Against the brilliance of the autumn leaves, our bus looked downright washed out. As we walked to the marsh, the colors changed from yellow, orange and gold to a vibrant crimson. I mean fuchsia … sort of scarlet, pink? Well, it was cranberry colored! Millions of berries bobbed on the surface of the bog like fishing floats for elves. My classmates and I watched as a harvester, a man-driven machine that looked like a cross between a farmer's combine and an alien's space ship, raked up the berries, which were sent ashore via conveyor belt.

With cheeks and noses as rosy as the harvest, we continued our tour at the sorting belts. Countless roly-poly berries jiggled down the conveyor. On either side, women picked out the rogues - those that were damaged, too green or spoiled. No machine could do what these able women did: keen eyes spotting a defective berry and deft hands plucking it off the belt without mercy! There, amid all those heroines stood Mom; plaid sleeves rolled up, scarf preventing her curls from obstructing her vision. Those shiny berries didn't stand a chance with her at the helm.

Autumn field trips and cranberries are the stuff from which memories and history are made. After all, the crane berry is a native American fruit.

Whether they graced the first Thanksgiving table is debated by historians, but what would Thanksgiving be without the threat of a cranberry stain on Grandma's white linen cloth?

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