Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Them Old Cotton Fields Back Home

When it gets to be this time of the year and the cotton fields here in North Alabama begin to turn white with "southern snow", I can't help but think of the song, "Them Old Cotton Fields Back Home" No, I never picked cotton seriously but I actually have picked cotton. I can remember being a little girl and my dad taking me and my brothers down to Mr. George's place. Mr. George farmed cotton. I really can't tell you how many acres he had but that  field surely looked pretty big to me as a young girl. The field was solid white! We were given long muslin cotton sacks that hung over our shoulders and trailed behind us as we walked between the rows of cotton. We would pull the cotton from the bolls, then drop the fluffy white stuff in the sack. My cotton sack never did get very heavy. I obviously wasn't a serious cotton picker, but those who were serious about it would have to pull those cotton filled sacks down the rows as they went from plant to plant pulling the cotton from the bolls. Even cotton can be heavy if there's a lot of it! Once the bag was almost full, the cotton was dumped into a big trailer. I can remember jumping in that big trailer of cotton as a little girl. If you've ever been around a trailer full of cotton, you never forget that smell. It was a good smell.

I know a lot of people make their living by farming cotton but it's much different now than when I was a little girl and even much more different than when my dad was a boy. That kind of cotton-picking that my dad did was hard work...hard, hot, back breaking work.

My dad wrote down some things several years ago that he remembered about picking cotton as a boy. This is an excerpt from some of the things that he wrote in a booklet he entitled, "Some Things I Remember" by Jerry Sutton.

When I was in school, we had six weeks of summer school, then school turned out and gave us six weeks to pick our cotton. Most of the school children at that time lived on farms and the children were needed in the fall of the year to pick the cotton. We managed to get most of our cotton picked during that six week period. If picking wasn't completed during that period we finished it up after school started back.

I remember picking cotton each year and how your fingers around your finger nails would get sore and sometimes bleed. This would happen because the cotton bolls had sharp points on them and you would stick your fingers into the sharp points as you were reaching for the boll to pull the cotton out. My mother would make what she called a stall to slip over our sore fingers.
When I was ten years old, I remember picking 200 lbs of cotton in one day. The next year, when I was 11 years old, I picked 300 pounds of cotton in one day. As a general rule, I would pick about 250 pounds per day. During cotton picking season in the late 40's, my dad would pay us boys $1.00 for each hundred pounds we picked. We had to take some of that money and buy clothes for winter. I would have 2 changes of clothes to wear to school during the winter. Each set would be a pair of pants and a shirt. One would be brown and the other gray. I would wear one set 3 days a week and the other 2 days a week.

The cotton we picked in the fall had to be chopped during the summer. Farmers didn't use chemicals to kill the grass and weeds as they do today. With a hoe in your hand, you would cut the grass from around the cotton plants and pull it out between the rows. Then with a plow attached to the tractor, the grass would be plowed up and would die. I remember on one occasion, when I was about 11, I was sharpening my hoe with a file and my hand slipped. I cut my hand pretty bad on the hoe. My mother poured some coal oil on it and wrapped it up. I got out of chopping cotton for about a day and a a half. The place healed up real well but I still have a scar on my hand.

That was a time when life was hard but much simpler. It was a time when farmers worked the ground by the sweat of their brow and families worked together to get the farm plowed or the crops planted or the cotton picked. It was a time when very few folks suffered from insomnia. It didn't take long to figure out that it was time to rest the body after working from sun up to sun down. It was a time when homemade blackberry jam on a hot biscuit was the rule instead of the exception. It was a time when you knew your neighbor and didn't worry quite so much about that stranger walking up to your front door. It was a time when a man's word meant something.

While I definitely wouldn't want to go back to the times of picking cotton by hand, I hate that we've gotten so far away from the good things that came with that period of time in our history. I think we've thrown out the baby with the bathwater failing to carry some of that "good stuff" forward. What a shame.

I can remember going to the cotton field and waiting for daylight to come so we could start picking. I have also been in the cotton field when it got too dark to see how to pick the cotton.

1 comment:

Leisa Pender said...

Oh Bev, I remember that smell too!! My Granny made me a "cotton-pickin" bag from a flour sack using socks as shoulder straps. I remember the scales being set up on Granny's front porch and everyone would weigh the cotton they picked when their bags were full. I claimed I picked " a hundred pounds". In a flour sack?? Oh, well it kept me out of the grown-ups way....Oh, and I loved going to the cotton gin with Daddy! Those were REALLY hard times for my family but an era that will soon be lost.

Post a Comment