It was early September. The first days of autumn had yet to shake off the warmth of summer. The sun filtered through the leaves and landed joyously on the red and green curves of the apples clinging to the branches of the trees. The orchard echoed with the occasional sound of Spanish words, sung from the top of an aluminum ladder perched against a limb or spoken from alongside a 20-bushel box as apples were tumbled from picking bags into their new home.
Meanwhile, I sat in the seat of a bright yellow forklift and stared dubiously at the controls. I had just learned to drive this contraption a few days before. Words like “Here’s the brakes – but don’t count on them. They don’t work half the time” had been a part of my training. As I moved the forklift forward, I couldn’t help but feel that I didn’t know what the heck I was doing.
And, as I drove down the orchard rows, picking up full boxes of apples and moving empty boxes into their proper places, I couldn’t help but feel that the apple pickers were probably thinking the same thing. I could just hear them thinking to themselves “Stupid flaca! Donde esta la caja?!” as I struggled to maneuver the forklift in tight places and to get the forks to slide under the box just right.
Fast forward to early October. Autumn had arrived in full. Leaves were drifting through the sky and several of the orchard trees were looking much emptier than they had before. Spanish words were still flying through the air and apples were still tumbling into boxes.
And I was still there, in the seat of the bright yellow forklift, traveling down the orchard rows, picking up full boxes and moving empty ones into their proper places. But things were different now. Tight places had ceased to worry me. The forklift forks slid smoothly under the boxes with little fuss. I had conquered the contraption. I now knew what the heck I was doing.
Fast forward to the end of October. The forklift, feeling its age and the toil of everyday work, sputtered to a stop at the end of an orchard row, far from where I had intended to park it, and refused to start again. I climbed down and walked the length of the orchard to where my brother was loading boxes on the truck to give him the bad news.
“Well,” he said “I can take a look at it and maybe fix it. Meanwhile, you can drive my tractor.”
“The tractor? I don’t know how to drive the tractor!”
“If you can drive the forklift, you can drive the tractor. I’ll show you.”
A short lesson later, I found myself atop a bright red tractor, staring dubiously at the controls. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I struggled to maneuver the tractor through tight places and spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to back the tractor forks under the boxes. As I adjusted the tractor for the fifth time and inched it as slowly as possible towards a full box of apples, I saw one of the apple pickers, in need of another empty box, look over at me. And I knew exactly what he was thinking. “Stupid Flaca! Donde esta la caja?!”
Back to square one.
I was realizing once again one of my perfectionist self’s least favorite facts: You have be bad at something before you can be good at it.
But that’s the fun (or the pain?) of learning, right? And if the Flaca could conquer the forklift, I knew she could conquer the tractor.
(And I did! Eventually.)