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Monday, May 27, 2013

Cotton Fields Back Home

CCR-Cotton Fields 

When my mother finally remarried, my stepfather was the total opposite of my father.  I have previously posted that he was a good and hardworking man.  A wonderful provider, but so tight fisted with money that he could squeeze the buffalo off of a nickel.  He is no longer alive to defend himself, but if he was alive, I believe that he would beam with pride at the description.

My stepfather had a third grade education, and was taken out of school after third grade so he could help work alongside his family.  His family background was agriculture, and that to me would become a problem, before it would turn into a blessing.  Because he was a hard worker, he didn’t appreciate the education aspect of growing up.  He probably saw it more as an inconvenience, then helpful.  Only the Compulsory Education Law would guarantee us an eighth grade education.  Every state law is different, but my step brother and I had that going for us.

When I was ten years old my stepfather, got the brilliant idea that my stepbrother (2 years younger) and I should go pick cotton as soon as school ended for the year.  He made arrangements with a contractor to swing by our house on Saturday morning at 6:30 am to pick us up.  The night before we went shopping for clothes that doubled for work clothes and straw hats to protect us from the 100 plus degree temperatures.

Saturday morning at 6:30 sharp a two ton flatbed truck with side rails picked us up at our driveway.  I didn’t know what to expect, but was amazed to see about 25 adults and young kids in the back of the truck (seat belts? what seat belts?).  The drive was about 45 minutes long before we pulled off the highway into an area where the rows appeared to be a mile long, but in reality were more like a quarter mile in length.  For starters we were ill prepared.  Before we could start I had to purchase a “cotton picking sack” (a tool for picking cotton, really!) that was probably 8 or 9 feet long.  Since I didn’t have any money I purchased it on credit from the company store (sound familiar? Definitely no price comparisons.), my younger brother was able to use a free burlap sack.  By noon I made the executive decision to purchase from the company store two bottles of ice cold pop (orange flavor), and two slices of ice cold water melon to go with our bread and baloney sandwiches.

As we were picking cotton, there were two bi-planes spraying insecticides in the adjoining fields, and not knowing any better we actually appreciated the cool over spray in the hot sun.  I could go on with this misadventures for a ten post series, but I won’t.  The bottom line is that when we got to the end of the week my stepfather was handed a bill for $3.86.  The balance he owed (after accounting for our earnings) for all the pop and watermelons slices we ate, plus the cost of my cotton picking sack (real name, promise!).  He wasn’t happy at all!  He did figure correctly, that with the major expense out of the way and a warning, about our spending more than we earned, we would be in black ink by the end of the work season.

The following school year start found me telling a lie on the first day back.  I remember that we all found our sitting places and were welcomed back.  Next we took turns introducing ourselves.  The very next question had to be addressed by each student; “What did you do for summer vacation?”  I was still feeling uncomfortable about the cotton picking experience (no pun intended), so when it came to my turn, I said that we had traveled out of state to visit my grandparents and then spent time helping with the landscaping of our new house (we had just moved to our new house in February.)

My love and respect to all the people that ever picked cotton.

My mistake was to assume that working out in the fields picking cotton was a shameful thing.  Looking back, my brother and I had a choice, we could apply ourselves in school, guaranteeing that we would never be dependent on field work, and we both did apply ourselves.  Only through high school did we both work in agriculture (we were raised on the farm) and that was the blessing, in that we developed the best possible work ethic.  Even with that experience, I wouldn’t change anything in my life’s history. The best is yet to come….

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