Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Cotton Picking Story

It was interesting to me this morning that EL's post on MissPres was about cotton.  A few days ago, I had noted the cotton ready to be picked and remembering back on the first year I was here.  As I would drive to work each morning, the fields were so full of cotton that it looked like snow.  That is not the case this year.

Seeing a cotton stripper takes me back to my childhood, when that was a rarity.  I suppose not only was it the cost of a machine in those days, but there were many criticisms that stripping lost too much cotton.  A field after stripping might still have a lot of cotton, whereas, hand picking could get it all.

I grew up in the northwest part of Texas, where cotton was a common crop.  In Texas, migrant farm workers from Mexico were the ones who picked cotton.  Labor was plentiful as the migrants would follow the season, picking cotton or fruit, or whatever the crop was at the time.

One year, when I was in third grade, my mother wanted to work picking cotton.  I imagine she figured we could use the money: three kids, my dad was a heavy equipment operator running a dragline at the gravel plant, and my mother stayed home where all good housewives and mothers were in those days.  Dad did not want her to--that was considered migrant labor work.  I don't know how she prevailed, but she apparently convinced him it was a good idea.

The folks up the road from us farmed and hired Mother.  She would pick all day, and my brother and sister and I would get off the bus there instead of at home, and help.  She made us sacks from pillowcases, and we would fill our case and then dump it into Mom's bag.  A cotton sack is a long, heavy canvas bag, slung over the shoulder, and drags along the row behind the worker.  When Daddy got off work at 5, he would come up to the field and pick until dark.

While I was driving past the cotton fields, I remembered an old song and started singing:
When I was a little bitty baby my mama would rock me in my cradle in them old cotton fields back home.
Well it was down in Louisiana, just about a mile from Texarkana, in them old cotton fields back home.
But when them cotton bolls get rotten, you can't pick very much cotton, in them old cotton fields back home.

After moving to Mississippi and falling in love with the music of James "Super Chikan" Johnson, one of my favorite songs is his "Old Field Song."  It is the story of workers, picking the cotton on the plantation.  "Bend yore back, brother get down low.  Here comes the boss man, man, you better clean your row."  It ends with "How can the blues be so pretty and white.  I see cotton in my sleep at night."
Back in 04, the cotton was definitely much bigger and fuller.  But, as EL pointed out, at least this year, it is not rotting in the fields of mud from the rain.


ELMalvaney said...

I've always thought someone might make some good money going behind the mechanical stripper and picking the remaining cotton--it seems like it wastes alot, but I guess if the cotton prices aren't that high, maybe it doesn't matter. This year, with dollar cotton, it might be a good idea.

frank_ezelle said...

I throughly enjoyed both cotton picking stories from the two of you. Keep up those good posts and maybe you can start charging people money to read your blogs (you know what I'm talking about EL).

Gigi said...

Not being a Native Texas gal nor a country gal of any sort, I had never seen cotton up close till I started traveling out to Pecos with the Rehab team. Those huge, full fields always mesmerized me as we sped down the highway. I can still remember the first time we pulled the car over and got out to touch the cotton.