Picking Cotton By Hand In The South
I Picked Cotton For $1.00 A Pound
I have not thought of picking cotton in the deep south for many years. One day recently I was in my neighborhood grocery store and looked over at their display of cut flowers. They always have a good selection of different flowers arranged in bouquets. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I just like to look at the pretty flowers, especially the roses. I could not believe my eyes! There were sprigs of cotton for sale. Yes, cotton! I looked closer, thinking they must be fake; maybe a plastic of some sort. I gently touched one of the cotton bolls filled with white material. It was soft and fluffy. It was truly real cotton! I bought a sprig, and carefully brought it home. I placed it in a vase where it would be safe. It was a found treasure to me. I have not seen cotton in many years except growing in fields when I would pass through southern states on my way to somewhere up north.
A Girl Like Me Picking Cotton
Children Picked Cotton
When I looked at the sprig of cotton, it was as though years melted away. I was once again a little girl picking cotton. It would be called child labor now, but back then all the children worked in the fields during the summer time when school was out. We didn’t have summer vacations like the school children have now. We worked, and we worked very hard. I don’t think we looked on this as being labor. It was expected of us to do our share of the work, not only for our own family, but to earn money for the family. I can’t remember the exact age I was when I first began picking cotton, but I must have been six years old.
Children Picking Coton
My parents were not cotton farmers. We didn’t have enough land. It requires many acres of land to grow cotton. We grew corn and other vegetables that Mother canned for us to eat. We raised cows, hogs, chickens, and goats. The cows and the goats were used for their milk. The chickens supplied all the eggs we needed, plus enough extra to sell at market. The young chickens supplied our Sunday dinner. The hogs were butchered so we would have plenty of ham, bacon and sausage to eat.
There were plenty of cotton farmers in our area. When the cotton was ready to be harvested, the farmers hired extra hands to pick the cotton. Laborers have now been replaced by machines that are driven into the fields, and the machines harvest the cotton. These machines were introduced in the '50's to harvest the cotton crops.
The cotton flower is very pretty. It’s has a pinkish color. After it finishes blooming the cotton appears.
The Cotton Flower
A Sunbonnet Like The One I Wore To Pick Cotton
We Wore Sunbonnets And Dresses To Pick Cotton
When I picked cotton I remember going into the field to work wearing the sunbonnet my Mother made for me. This kept the hot sun off the back of my neck, and also had a broad brim to keep the sun off my face. I’m sure you have watched episodes of “Little House On the Prairie”, and seen the girls dressed just like I used to dress. Girls back then were not allowed to wear pants or shorts. It was not lady-like. We wore cotton dresses that our Mothers made from flour sacks.
The Cotton Still In The Boll
Working In The Cotton Fields
When we got to the field to work, each person was given a big sack to hold the cotton as it was picked. These were just big sacks with a strap that went over the shoulder. That left both hands free to pick. No one wore gloves. I can still feel the soft cotton between my fingers. The boll that holds the cotton is quite sharp, and by the end of the day, our fingers were very sore. The secret is to just pluck the cotton out of the boll without getting stuck by the sharp boll. We had a great rhythm doing this. When both hands were full of cotton, it went into the sack. When the sack became full, we emptied it out on our own blanket. Everyone had their own blanket that we spread out before we started picking.
I remember the cotton field as a happy place. We all sang as we picked. We usually sang spiritual songs. We could sing as loud as we wanted, and no one would complain. The grownups picked right alongside the children in the fields, but of course, they always got ahead of us children in the rows, because they were much faster than we were. I remember seeing young Mothers with their babies strapped on their backs. When the baby got hungry, the Mother stopped and allowed it to nurse. Then she would go right back to work. There were stories of women having their babies right there in the cotton fields, but I never saw that.
At noon, we would hear the dinner bell. We called the noontime meal dinner , not lunch. What a wonderful sound that was. I can still hear it. We would put down our sacks, and run for the farmhouse. In looking back, I wonder how the farmer’s wife prepared all the food she did for all the workers. There would be fresh vegetables, cornbread, and always some kind of meat. She always made a lot of iced sweet tea. There could be as many as 50 workers on any day, but there was always enough food to go around. We sat on the ground, and ate like pigs. We had an hour to eat and rest before another bell rang to tell us it was time to go back to the fields.
At 5 p.m. another bell would sound. That was the best sound of all. That meant we were through for the day. We would gather up our blankets full of cotton. We placed a hard knot at the top so that no cotton could fall out. Then we would wait for the farmer and his helpers to come around with the scales and weigh our precious haul. I remember we were paid a penny a pound for the cotton we picked. Some of the men could pick over 200 pounds of cotton a day. I never picked more than 100 pounds. We were paid one cent a pound! So the most I ever made in for a full days work was $1.00.
I Have Happy Memories Of My Childhood When I Picked Cotton
Now when I look at the sprig of cotton in the vase I am transported back to a time in my life when I was a happy child. I am once again picking cotton in the fields of the south.
My Sprig Of Cotton That I Treasure
A Great Hub By paulkuehn On Growing Up On A Farm
- Moral Lessons Learned From Growing Up on a Farm
Growing up on a farm gave me the experience to learn valuable moral lessons for life. These valuable lessons include the importance of hard work, the value of money, self-sufficency, teamwork, generosity, austerity, and the enduring of inconvenience.
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Video On Picking Cotton
Good Books On Amazon About Picking Cotton
© 2011 Mary Hyatt
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