The Land of Cotton

I grew up on a small farm in the 50’s and 60’s. Daddy had a small cotton allotment of about 13 acres. His ambition was to farm but after WWII he couldn’t make ends meet so he surrendered to public work. The US government was building an arsenal in Tullahoma, Tennessee equipped with wind tunnels for missile testing and several other things. Long story short, they were pouring a lot of concrete at the sight and a man by the name of Bill Brewer got Daddy on as an apprentice. His first job was pushing concrete in a wheelbarrow for 35 cents and hour. I think Daddy worked two years as an apprentice before he became a certified finisher which became his trade for life.

Although he scratched out a living to feed nine mouths by finishing concrete,  Daddy could not give up his dream of farming, so he worked all day and tried to farm evenings, nights and weekends. Finishing concrete is hard work and coming home to a cotton field cannot be pleasant. Daddy thought he could get most of the work done through children. When you put kids in a cotton patch unsupervised; you are probably not going to get much production unless you beat them a couple of times a week. We had two generations: the kids born before the war and the ones born after. So in the last years of our cotton farming, it was just me and my sister Joy. We did a horrible job of chopping and our cotton was always run away with grass and cockleburs. We were not that good at picking either. I never picked 200 pounds in my life. I picked 190 when I was about 13 and pulled 350 pounds of bowls that same fall but that was  my last year to pick all day: from that point, I had to weigh up, especially when daddy could hire pickers. One fall day, it was just Joy and myself picking and we had an old 51 Chevy truck. The front fenders make great seats and the hood made a great card table. We weighed up about 3:00 in the evening and then decided we would play a couple of hands of blind rook before Daddy came home. We got all engrossed in the card game and the time slipped away. The next thing we know, Daddy slips up behind us and hits the side of the truck. We jump off like we had been shocked and Joy started berating me for not watching. Our punishment was that we had to pick until dark.

Hey, one other cotton patch tale on Joy. We were picking for our uncle Crutcher one fall and his son Joe was up in the cotton catching the sacks and emptying them. My brother John was weighting. After he weighed a sack, he would pitch it to Joe. When he pitched Joy’s sack it traveled more quickly than usual and hit Joe in the head: that is when he realized  Joy had put a big rock in her sack. Trust me, rocks will not gin out. Neither does it help to soak your sack in the watering trough.

The good news came in 1965. It was called a cotton picker. Our neighbors brought a brand new 3010 diesel John Deere [wish I had one just like it] and they got a one row picker attachment. They could pick 4-6 bales of cotton per day. Daddy sold them our allotment and our cotton picking days were over. Then it was not long until they came out with herbicides and the chopping came to an end. I hated chopping. I was not crazy about picking but chopping was hades. There was a little money floating around during the harvest but none during the hot summer months of chopping. I can tell you two things that can ruin any childhood–cotton fields and peach orchards. Peaches are harder to raise than cotton.