Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Picking Cotton

The fields are white, literally white, in North Alabama now.

The farmers here plant cotton every year.  Some years, they earn enough to make them want to plant more.  Other years, they curse the day they put the seed in the ground.

My parents raised cotton until I was a teenager.  I remember going to the field to help pick cotton, although I'm sure my contribution would not have been missed.  I did learn a lot, however, about dirt and desire and delusions and disappointments and dreams.

Modern stories tend to romanticize cotton picking.  Obviously, the tellers of these stories never knew how one's back would threaten to come apart from the strain of bending over and pulling a heavy pick sack all day long.  Or, how the day would start out cool, with dew wet leaves that made the  cotton fiber stick to your hands, especially in the raw areas where the sharp cotton boles had taken the skin. Or, how the noonday sun burned the back of your neck and caused the heavy straps of the pick sacks to become wet against your shoulders.

Those nostalgic stories don't often recall my mama picking cotton all day, stopping to nurse the baby when needed, and making sure the little ones stayed safe on the old quilt spread in the shade at the end of the cotton rows.  A thousand miles she went, back and forth, down one row and up another, filling that nine foot long sack to capacity several times a day.  After sundown evicted us from the field, Mama still had to cook our supper, with no microwave oven or processed food,  and do the other work that keeps a family together.  I'm wondering if there are any women of her stamina alive today. 

Daddy stopped planting cotton about the same time that mechanical cotton pickers were introduced to our area.  It was unbelievable to us, this concept that people would no longer pick cotton.  Thank God and International Harvester, it happened.  We love our 100% cotton clothes and towels and sweet sheets to sleep on, and I'm thankful that I don't have to pick my own cotton to enjoy these things.

I pray I will never forget the people whose DNA lives in me, strong people who struggled to make a better life for their children.  We need to teach our children, and teach them well, how those great shadows of the past have sweated to shape this comfortable and easy world we live in today.