(Recorded by Gary McCoy)
I dreamed I drove on a Florida road, still and straight and
empty. On either side were groves of orange trees, so that as I turned to
look at them from time to time, line after line of trees stretched back
endlessly from the road. Their boughs were heavy with round yellow fruit.
This was harvest time. My wonder grew as the miles slipped by. How could the
harvest be gathered?
Suddenly I realized that for all the hours I had driven (and this was how I
knew I must be dreaming) I had seen no other person. The groves were empty
of people. No other car had passed me. No houses were to be seen beside the
highway. I was alone in a forest of orange trees.
But, at last, I saw some orange pickers. Far from the highway, almost on the
horizon, lost in the vast wilderness of unpicked fruit, I could discern a
tiny group of them working steadily. And many miles later I saw another
group. I could not be sure, but I suspected that the earth beneath me was
shaking with silent laughter at the hopelessness of their task. Yet the
pickers went on picking.
The sun had long passed its zenith and the shadows were lengthening when,
without any warning, I turned a corner of the road to see a notice "Leaving
NEGLECTED COUNTY - Entering HOME COUNTY." The contrast was so startling that
I scarcely had time to take in the notice. I had to slow down for all at
once the traffic was heavy. People by the
thousands swarmed the road and crowded the sidewalks.
Even more startling was the transformation in the orange groves. Orange
groves were still there and orange trees in abundance, but now, far from
being silent and empty, they were filled with the laughter and singing of
multitudes of people. Indeed it was the people we noticed rather than the
trees. People and houses.
I parked the car at the roadside and mingled with the crowd. Smart gowns,
neat shoes, showy hats, expensive suits, and starched shirts made me a
little conscious of my work clothes. Everyone seemed so fresh and poised and
"Is it a holiday?" I asked a well-dressed woman with whom I fell in step.
She looked a little startled for a moment, and then her face relaxed with a
smile of gracious condescension.
"You're a stranger, aren't you?" she said before I could reply, "This is
She must have seen a puzzled look on my face, for she went on, "It is so
good to turn aside from one's labors and pick oranges one day of the week."
"But don't you pick oranges every day?" I asked her.
"One may pick oranges at any time," she said, "We should always be ready to
pick oranges, but Orange Day is the day that we devote especially to orange
I left her and made my way further into the trees. Most of the people were
carrying a book. Bound beautifully in leather, and edged and lettered in
gold, I was able to discern on the edge of one of them the words: The Orange
By and by I noticed around one of the orange trees, seats had been arranged,
rising upward in tiers from the ground. The seats were almost full-but as I
approached the group, a smiling well-dressed gentleman shook my hand and
conducted me to a seat.
There, around the foot of the orange tree, I could see a number of people.
One of them was addressing all the people on the seats and just as I got to
my seat, everyone rose to his feet and began to sing. The man next to me
shared with me his song book. It was called: Songs of the Orange Groves.
They sang for some time and the song leader waved his arms with a strange
and frenzied abandon, exhorting the people in the intervals between the
songs to sing more loudly.
I grew steadily more puzzled.
"When do we start to pick oranges?" I asked the man who had loaned me his
"It's not long now," he told me. "We like to get everyone warmed up first.
Besides, we want to make the oranges feel at home." I thought he was joking
but his face was serious.
After a while a rather large man took over from the song leader and, after
reading two sentences from his well-thumbed copy of the Orange Picker's
Manual, began to make a speech. I wasn't clear whether he was addressing the
people or the oranges.
I glanced behind me and saw a number of groups of people similar to our own
group gathering around an occasional tree and being addressed by other large
men. Some of the trees had no one around them.
"Which trees do we pick from?" I asked the man beside me. He did not seem to
understand, so I pointed to the trees round about.
"This is our tree," he said, pointing to the one we were gathered around.
"But there are too many of us to pick from just one tree," I protested.
"Why, there are more people than oranges!"
"But we don't pick oranges," the man explained. "We haven't been called.
That's the Orange Picker's job. We're here to support him. Besides we
haven't been to college. You need to know how an orange thinks before you
can pick it successfully, orange psychology, you know. Most of these folk
here," he went on, pointing to the congregation, "have never been to Manual
"Manual School," I whispered. "What's that?"
"It's where they go to study the Orange Picker's Manual," my informant went
on. "It's very hard to understand. You need years of study before it makes
"I see", I murmured. "I had no idea that picking oranges was so difficult."
The large man at the front was still making his speech. His face was red and
he appeared to be indignant about something. So far as I could see there was
rivalry with some of the other "orange-picking" groups. But a moment later a
glow came on his face,
"But we are not forsaken," he said. "We have much to be thankful for. Last
week we saw THREE ORANGES BROUGHT INTO OUR BASKETS, and we are now
completely debt free from the money we owed on the new cushion covers that
grace the seats you now sit on."
"Isn't it wonderful?" the man next to me murmured. I made no reply. I felt
that something must be profoundly wrong somewhere. All this seemed to be a
very roundabout way of picking oranges.
The large man was reaching a climax in his speech. The atmosphere seemed
tense. Then with a very dramatic gesture he reached two of the oranges,
plucked them from the branch, and placed them in the basket at his feet. The
applause was deafening.
"Do we start on the picking now?" I asked my informant.
"What in the world do you think we're doing?" he hissed. "What do you
suppose this tremendous effort has been made for? There's more
orange-picking talent in this group than in the rest of Home County.
Thousands of dollars have been spent on the tree you're looking at."
I apologized quickly. "I wasn't being critical," I said. "And I'm sure the
large man must be a very good orange picker - but surely the rest of us
could try. After all, there are so many oranges that need picking. We've all
got a pair of hands and we could read the Manual."
"When you've been in the business as long as I have, you'll realize that
it's not as simple as that," he replied. "There isn't time, for one thing.
We have our work to do, our families to care for, and our homes to look
But I wasn't listening. Light was beginning to break on me. Whatever these
people were, they were not orange pickers. Orange picking was just a form of
entertainment for their weekends.
I tried one or two more of the groups around the trees. Not all of them had
such high academic standards for orange pickers. Some held classes on orange
picking. I tried to tell them of the trees I had seen in Neglected County
but they seemed to have little interest.
"We haven't picked the oranges here yet," was their usual reply.
The sun was almost setting in my dream and, growing tired of the noise and
activity all around me, I got in the car and began to drive back again along
the road I had come. Soon all around me again were the vast and empty orange
But there were changes. Something had happened in my absence. Everywhere the
ground was littered with fallen fruit. And as I watched it seemed that
before my eyes the trees began to rain oranges. Many of them lay rotting on
I felt there was something so strange about it all, and my bewilderment grew
as I thought of all the people in Home County.
Then, booming through the trees there came a voice which said, "The harvest
truly is plenteous but the laborers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of
the harvest", that he will send forth laborers..."
And I awakened - for it was only a dream!