Friday, September 4, 2015

Cotton Pickin Days

(Exert from my book, "The Ripples In The Lake")
Chapter Three
Our days were spent very differently from the other kids at school. I watched them with their pretty dresses and shoes talk about where they were going that weekend or maybe going to a party on Saturday. My days started at 4 AM from the age of 8, making biscuits with freezing cold water in winter. I can still remember the pain in my fingers as I would run to the fireplace in the living room, after making the biscuits, and warming my fingers in the heat. The painful tingling of the warmed blood to my fingers was just a reminder from the day before and it incited a longing for warmer days. I made the biscuits and sometimes gravy, grits, eggs, and bacon for Daddy's breakfast at first, and then when the boys were old enough to go to work, made it for them too. While they ate, I packed the lunches for them of leftovers from last nights meal. It took an hour for that, then I went back to bed until I had to get up for school. No one at school knew what I was doing and I told no one about it. We did what we had to do to get to the next day. And when we did, we started again.
On some Saturdays my brother Ernest, my sister and I used to work in the fields right along side the blacks, and since we were one of the few white kids working in the fields, we were looked at with some surprise. We did not think anything of it, because we were not raised to be aware that skin color made any difference. We knew enough to know that some people treated other people badly, but it is not something that we did. I would work from sun up to sun down on Saturday, to make a "poor mans dollar", like the song goes. I picked cotton, and it took a long time to make a hundred pounds of cotton. Some days I would make 80 cents, and some days I would make a dollar.
Some people think that pulling cotton is the same as picking cotton but it is vastly different.
(From the Cotton Pickin experts in Texas)
"Picked cotton is that which has only the white fluff – the fiber – with the seed inside. It was very laborious to hand pick cotton as you had to pick it as clean as possible. Pulled cotton included the white fluff AND the leaves and stems, etc….whatever you grabbed. A good cotton picker might pick as much as six or seven hundred pounds in a day, or pull as much as a thousand pounds. Pulled cotton would be “cleaned” at the gin by the Moss Lint Cleaner which was added to the Burton Farmers Gin in the early 1960’s. Pulled cotton had to be cleaned first ….then it was put through the gin stands."
I remember one day I was picking alongside this old man and he had some gloves on. He looked over at my hands, and they were bleeding. Cotton is beautiful, white, and fluffy, which are all great things, but the husk, when dried, will cut your fingers to ribbons, even when careful. I guess that is a lesson there, that things can seem all good, but underneath the fluffy goodness, can be something to harm you. Anyway, he looked over at me a 10 yr old child, and came over to me. He lifted my hands up, and saw them torn and bleeding, and took off his old leather gloves, and put them on my tiny hands. They were huge, but they provided a barrier for me the rest of the time that I worked in the fields. He just went right back to picking as he sang a Negro Spiritual, the rest of the way down the row. I don't remember if I ever properly thanked him, and I don't even know his name, but he was my hero that day.
I made a dollar that day because I was able to pick faster, with the gloves on. I don't recall if it slowed him down at all, as he made it to the end of the row in record time. Picking cotton was life to him, whereas it was "candy" money to me. I feel bad now writing that because, although we were poor, we had food, and I had a couple dresses and shoes on my feet. They worked so hard to eat, and now as I look back on it, I am sorry that I worked to get an extra, and they worked to live. He really did something nice for a stranger that day, and taught me a very valuable lesson about humanity.
Gloria Peacock Kimmel  (Photo taken by my Niece Michel Peacock Edwards)