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the cannery lady

January 17, 2013

I was thinking I’d run out of pictures, and I forgot I was supposed to come back and write about the cannery lady!

I couldn’t decide which shot to use, so I decided to use a lot of them.

Now this is a nice piece of civic art. Pittsburg has a fisherman, down by the river, and we have her. There’s no cannery down there anymore, but oh well.


When I was a kid, you could tell when they were canning tomatoes, even three miles away, where we lived. It was a nice change from the usual PAPER MILL fumes. How could ground-up trees smell that horrible? I guess it’s their revenge, to which they’re certainly entitled.


Anyway, as I recall, The Cannery Lady was not enshrined without controversy. She looks a little… ahem… Grapes of Wrathy, and people objected to that. Former actual cannery ladies pointed out that they were always neat and pristinely dressed, and they did not sport combat boots.


Here is a real cannery lady– my grandmother! Dancing at the wedding of her youngest daughter, in 1952


They worked in canneries all over the Delta, every year, when my father was growing up: Suisun, Pittsburg, Rio Vista, Sacramento, Vallejo… Never in Antioch, though. My grandfather also worked, and my father, when he was older, but my grandmother was the pro, according to my dad– one of the fastest canners around.


She told me once how they used to make lace-trimmed handkerchiefs for the floor ladies– to curry favor. She learned how to make pizza from the Italian ladies there.

Once they went to Monterey– Cannery Row, remember?– but when she found out you had to run to work whenever the fish came in and the whistle blew, day or night, she decided she couldn’t do that, with three kids.

My grandmother’s dream was to stay home with her kids; she found it hard to imagine that any mother would WANT to work someplace else, too.


Despite all the neatness, sometimes those ladies used to say they would never eat commercially canned food– they knew what went into them sometimes, by accident. Still, I wish I could stop ruining my eyes trying to read the fine print when I buy a can of vegetables, and just have confidence that I was buying beautiful California produce, canned a few miles away.

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