Being A Mitton

This story interests me because it shines insight into how my Dad grew up and the circumstances that made him who he was.

Three things were inviolate in my Dad’s household when he was a boy.

  1. You would go to church and behave like you believed the story. And behave.
  2. You would receive a modicum of an education. Whether your liked it or not.
  3. You would give your boss a full day of hard work whether you were getting paid or not.

In any of these cases, calling Child Protective Services was not an option. Good thing it was in the ‘fifties: my grandparents would have gone to jail if they pulled this stunt today.

His First Job

Dad was fourteen and too young to have a full-time job. Somehow, though, and I’m sure he charmed his way into it, he finagled a summer job at Knutsen’s bulb farm in Sumner. They were one of the larger farms in the Puyallup Valley and getting a job there was a real coup. His Dad, my Grandfather, was teaching summer school in Bonnie Lake that summer, just up the road. So they struck The Deal. Grandpa would swing through Sumner and drop Dad off and then pick him up on the way home. Maybe they shook hands, I don’ know. But a man’s word was his word. That was the rule.

On the first day of The Deal, Dad and Grandpa got up early and drove up and then down the hill to Sumner. Grandpa dropped Dad off and probably said Hi the field boss just to touch base. Most of the community knew the family and had had either Grandpa or Grandma as a teacher. Grandpa went to work and, as planned, picked Dad up on the way home.

The Deal Questioned

On about the third day, Dad wasn’t quite as chatty on the way home. He had been fired. Fired? Grandpa was deeply religious but I’m guessing that if he ever wanted to swear it was now. No Mitton gets fired. Mittons put their nose to the grindstone. We sweat and never complain but say thank you for the opportunity. Dad sat stone cold as Grandpa swung the car around to head back to the farm.

The field boss explained that Dad was just too young to work a full day. He was good for the morning but by the end of the day he would rather goof off than work. (Who wouldn’t?) He talked and joked too much. He flirted with the girls. Dad and Grandpa loaded back up in the car and tolerated a quiet ride home. A teaching moment was being planned.

The Next Day

Things weren’t quiet the next morning. At six o’clock Grandma woke Dad, calling him downstairs for breakfast. He ate, dumbfounded, and asked why he was up early? He was fired. Where was he going? Probably to military school, he thought. “We made a deal,” Grandpa said. “Remember? We’re going to keep our deal.”

“But I got fired,” Dad said, more confused.

“That doesn’t change our deal. Mom will make you lunch and I will drop you off.”

They drove to the farm with Dad wondering what had happened. Nothing had happened. He was still fired and his Dad still dropped him off. They pulled into the farm’s long driveway and Dad hopped out of the car. Grandpa explained again: “We made a deal. I’m going to drop you off each day right here until the end of summer. You have your lunch and can occupy yourself until I drive back after school.”

Dad claimed to have spent one of the most wonderful mornings of his life that day. He roamed around ditches and mud puddles, yelled at cows, and generally goofed off like any other fourteen year old would. He cozied up to a tree and ate his lunch watching clouds loll by. He looked at his watch and it was nine o’clock. By noon he was having the worst day of his life. Minutes seemed like hours. He was sure that all the kids at home were having fun at the ball field or playground or just roaming around the neighborhood and he was stuck in this ditch waiting for his dad to come fetch him.

Back to Work

He made it through two days like this. He spent the night before the third day dreading it. Without discussion – he knew better than to try to negotiate – his Mom woke him the next morning and Grandpa dropped him off at the same spot. But on this morning the field boss walked down the drive to talk to Grandpa. Dad never knew if Grandpa had brokered a deal of some sort but the boss offered him his job back if he agreed to focus on the work and try as best as he could to keep up with the older kids.

Dad agreed. What else would he do? He worked his rear off for the rest of the summer and ended up working at the farm through his high school years.

In true Mitton style, nothing was ever said about the entire episode. But more than once, when I was growing up and wanted something, Dad told me to think hard about what I wanted because once we made a deal that was it. No changing course mid-stream.


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To read more in the Fathers and Sons series go here.

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