By Otis Griffin
As bad as it may seem out in the hot sun, dust, dirt, snakes, bugs, insects and dirt pig paths, I actually enjoyed my ‘guv’mint’ job toward the end of the summer. Just a few times maybe a little shower ran everyone out of the fields and we’d congregate at a local country store for some rest and conversation. I got to meet a lot of folks and hopefully, made new friends. Even today, I have run across some retired, not by choice, farmers, that can remember some young ‘fellas’ measuring his cotton.
Recently my memory was refreshed by a Senior Citizen with his statements, “I never did understand why we had our crop cut back? It was hard enough as it was to pay the bills and make enough to feed my chill’un.” As the now white-haired gentleman folded his hands and ran them inside the bib of his overalls, he stared over my shoulder out into space as if daydreaming; he continued to recollect the past. “Son, you know, my Daddy and my Granddaddy growed cotton in the same spot for several years and I was just following in their footsteps, that’s all.” “Matter of fact, I bought my “sody” from the same sto’ as my Pap and me went to when I was a kid.” “Now, it’s all changed.”
As the gentleman was almost in a trance reliving the past I noticed the once shiny Red Goose work boots were cracked, scuffed and slightly turned and ‘run over’ from many years of tromping through the fields. Now to no avail. Years had taken a toll on the now faded Tuf-Nut overalls and his wife of decades, had stitched and patched several pulls, tugs, and torn jagged edges from what? Possibly snagging on a protruding nail in the barn, turning too closely to a barbed wire fence following a mule, or chasing down a loose pig and tripping over a hog trough? Maybe a pitchfork rammed the wall and flew back and caught his britches leg? Who knows?
Reaching in his slightly ripped back packet of his overalls, my new……old…friend extracted an antique, red bandana he had used in the middle of the day in cotton fields, probably years ago. Through a nervous habit I’m sure, when serious, he wiped the sweat from a wrinkled brow that once had been smooth and firm.
Continuing with the past, I didn’t know if I wanted to stay and hear the rest of the story or blot it from my mind and forget the past. Stoically, he lamented his friends he grew up with and how they too were devastated from the lost cash crop. “Son , that’s about all we knowed how to do, was farming.” Back ’en, not many of us got to finish ’em upper grades as we had to go the fields and make a crop” “Some of my best friends couldn’t pay for their ground and ended up losing the home-place that they growed up on.” It hurt to think about where we fished, hunted, played and now it was took over by someone else ’cause my friends couldn’t hold onto it”
Then again, some sold a few acres for a ton of money, so they could build some big fancy houses on it.” The same ground we growed corn, milo and beans on too, but ’em folks lived too close to the main house. It weren’t no fun, no more.” “Sumpin’ just ain’t right.”
Now breathing deeply and almost ventilating, my gentleman friend farmer said, “I understand they grow cotton all over the world now.” “But, I guarantee it ain’t as good as ours wuz.” “No sir, we’s always fair to middling with that there long fiber and good, clean, snow white handfuls that’d fill up a sack in no time flat.” With the faded already thin shirt with a button missing, tightly gripping his once muscled chest, he brought in his dreams of how it once was many years ago.
Stating, “I had to make a living, I tried working in a factory, but once inside the walls, I minded work and as we all ‘wuz’ raised up to work, but somehow it just didn’t seem right, now matter what I tried to do.” “But, you have to put some grub in them squalling kid’s mouths, so almost smothered.” “I just couldn’t breathe, as I wanted outside diggin’ in the dirt.” “I never as I didn’t have a choice and neither did my friends.”
Refusing to give in and buy much needed glasses, a deep furrow was riveted between his now soft eyes, displaying the weather hardened hide from working in the sun, he proudly told, despite his problems with farming, how each child had successfully gotten ahead in the world. Despite the stumps he encountered, somehow he and his wife had completed their task of raising a family. “Son, without the help of The Good Lord Above, we’d have never made it.” “I hope this is a lesson to you, young man!!”
I let the gentlemen finish his story as I was fearful to interrupt. Ever so often, removing his worn straw hat and continuing to wipe his brow, I tried to study his inside feelings and I too, felt real strange. With a big hole in the pit of my stomach, now I wondered, “did I do something wrong?” Did the gentleman think I was part of a conspiracy to make his family life miserable? I certainly hoped not. All I wanted to do was make some money to continue my education.
I had listened intently when my Granddaddy ‘Paw” Faulk and Daddy vividly describe the cold hard facts of the depression. I have always been thankful I never went through the frightful period. As I reached my truck, I realized that the Walter Brennan….look a like…had relayed to me, his “Battle of Shiloh” and his “Pearl Harbor” of life. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember and now sad to remember………when Cotton was King!
If You Love the Wonderful South and King Cotton……..Let Me Hear……..GLORY!