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My Cotton Fields Were Nothing to Sing About

Updated on September 22, 2018
kenneth avery profile image

Kenneth, born and raised in the South, resides in Hamilton, Alabama. He enjoys sharing his unique perspectives on life through his writing.

Now Those Hard and Trying

years from 1961 through 1966, somehow and with a good mix of secrecy, all melted away while we were all living in the daylight. Some might scoff and label our kind as fools, but we were too busy making a living to think about anything or anyone else. Life was always like that in rural Alabama.

My family and I had really not lived prior to 1961, no, we only endured the hot summers and cold winters that we swore was God pouring out His wrath on us for not having money enough for shoes and sometimes, food for our table. But my dad and mom were “Disciples of Duty,” and knew that for them to complain would only be wasting their time and breath. Both were prime commodities.

Until I started school, I watched (with sadness), my dad and mom weave their daily routines as if they were being pulled here and there by some Master Marionette who wore an evil smile—because his main intent was bilking innocent citizens from what meager living that they had labored to have.

This is a true photo of a moment in real life. There is nothing glamorous about how some people had to survive by picking cotton.
This is a true photo of a moment in real life. There is nothing glamorous about how some people had to survive by picking cotton. | Source

I Watched Both

my dad and mom sweat of a summer that I know they swore it way too hot, but both would smile and what work they tended, acted as their theater stage for performing their time in life. Dad was a do-it-yourself type of man. If he watched something that he didn’t know how to operate, build, or work on, he took to it in a short time. All without a high school or college education, just what schooling that that his G.I. Bill gave me when he was discharged from the Army.

Dad had his heart set on farming and working to feed my mom, sister, and me seven days a week and sometimes those meals with small portions had to be stretched, but my mom had some type of inner-wisdom that showed her each step of each dish and how to prepare it and still have enough left-over for another night. Life was like that in rural Alabama.

In Rural, Northwest Alabama

where we lived, there were cotton and corn fields that men, my dad for one, had to labor with shoddy tools and one good-hearted mule, just to get the expensive seeds planted in (a) ground that had the huge word, “Purgatory,” dug into the middle of the fields. Well, that one was quite unbelievable although it was my dad who said it. And if it were true, no one would have cursed him out for telling the truth that lived in the minds of every family who lived near us.

When the cotton and corn seed was planted, some untrained of our country might think that it was time to take it easy. Not so. While the cotton and corn was growing deep in our fields, we had other menial chores to do—wood to split for cooking and heating, floors to sweep, livestock to feed and water and on and on and on, the “Perpetual Train,” that we rode in rural Alabama hardly made any stops. Except when a neighbor passed, then we held the person and their family in the highest of respect. Truthfully, respect for one’s self and your neighbors was the only thing that we deemed as valuable, and we would have starved before spending it foolishly.

If you were among the “Green Handed,” then your quick celebrations of being finished planting would only be thwarted by the picking of the cotton and pulling the corn—all in a span of a few weeks, that flew by so fast that even the Black Racer snakes that grew past their limit, could match the way that time ran by—not giving us any time to do anything or go anywhere. In rural Alabama, there was always something to do.

And You Would be Well-Advised

to watch your hands and fingers if you were about to pick a few hundred pounds of “White Money,” for the crop owners and share croppers. “White Money” was slang for cotton. And this one crop was rural Alabama’s main industry which stretched throughout the south all the way to Arkansas and other out-lying places of rural location. The reason I told you about watching your hands and fingers, well it’s to warn you that the cotton that grows in bolls are very tough to handle because they are hard on the outside and you have to be careful not to let the outside stickers to get the best of you because enough of their sticking will cause you to shed your blood in the fields—and I can say with full authority that there were many of different backgrounds and races who swore by working in the cotton fields. And when I say work, I was being polite. It was pure labor to pick yourself a pick-sack full of cotton that weigh-out for 300 pounds giving you $5.00 for a day’s picking. In those days in rural Alabama, $5.00 was big money, alright.

You could always tell where a man (or woman) was working or had “put in some hard hours,” and that was picking cotton. Remember those stickers on the outside of the cotton? Some of those stickers not only bring the blood, but can cut deeply into a person’s hands leaving them a scar to remember those days when the sun hated you and the breezes refused to blow to cool you off. You can tell your friends near and far that life was never easy in rural Alabama.

I know. I lived in this part of the country and even now when my wife and I are living inside Hamilton, Ala., I can still remember the hard (and the few good) memories that rural Alabama gave me and my family and right now, if you don’t mind, I will not re-tell you any more about our days in the cotton and corn fields.


Sept. 22, 2018______________________________________________

A young man is seen leveling down the cotton that others have picked and deposited in the truck for the cotton to be sold at a cotton gin near a bigger town.
A young man is seen leveling down the cotton that others have picked and deposited in the truck for the cotton to be sold at a cotton gin near a bigger town. | Source

© 2018 Kenneth Avery


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    • profile image

      Ken Avery 

      2 years ago

      Mr.Happy --- my most-sincere thanks to you for this and every coment that you have made toward and about my hubs.

      It is those of my friends and you who keeps my ideas at work.

      By now, it is very cold here in Alabama and I need to find a cave to hibernate. Yeah, right.

      Much peace and happiness to you.

    • profile image

      Ken Avery 

      2 years ago

      whonunuwho -- always a pleasure to tag your name on HubPages thanks not only or your creativity, but what you say to me and I am sure what you say for others as well.

      Thanks, my friend, for all of your nice words and comments.

      Take it easy and write to me often.

    • profile image

      Ken Avery 

      2 years ago

      John -- my friend, thank you for every good word and input that you have given over the year for my hubs.

      I am in the same thinking as you with your enjoyable works.

      May God bless you and your works as well

      Write me soon.

    • profile image

      Ken Avery 

      2 years ago

      Liz -- that is so sad about you not having those cotton fields. I am not downing you, but as a friend, you surely failed when you did not help to pick cotton.

      Thank you for all of your words and write me anytime.

    • profile image

      Ken Avery 

      2 years ago

      Elijah --- I am very grateful to know that there is someone (you) who knew about the life I learned to live in younger days Yes, even those Racer snakes knew how to feed themselves,but they really could run at a moment's notice either to chase or get you .

      I Love these things.

    • NatureBoy0 profile image

      Elijah A Alexander Jr 

      2 years ago from Washington, DC USA

      "Even the 'Black Racer' snakes that grew past their limit, could match the way that time ran by" we called 'Blue Runners' in Louisiana made me laugh.

      Yes, I remember 'Cotton Picking days' although I left rural north central Louisiana at eight years old I had my flour sack out in the field picking away to earn my $.50 for a day's work in the late 40s and early 50s. My parents taught us how to never get our hands stuck by those thorns but sometimes we went astray and got nipped by one.

      I could visualize you and your family as my family of seven with me next the baby doing our part to earn that penny -- in Hebrew means a day's pay.

      Thanks, I enjoyed reading it.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      2 years ago from UK

      We don't have cotton plants in the UK as a rule, but I was fascinated to see some when I was abroad recently. Too often we take our clothing for granted without stopping to remember how much effort has gone into its creation.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      2 years ago from Gondwana Land

      I always love to read about your childhood and the cotton fields, Kenneth. Your writing is always a pleasure to read and your years as a journalist always comes to the fore in this type of article. I spent a day earlier this year picking cotton, but it was for my wife to use to spin thread on her spinning wheel. A kind cotton farmer said we could pick as much as we wanted. His crop had been actually ruined by the flood. Although cotton growing involves a lot of water, apparently it is possible for a crop to get too much. Good job here.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      2 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      "we were too busy making a living to think about anything or anyone else" - You often spit-out some real truths about Life Amigo! You nailed one here and this is true about the common men and women not just of Alabama but all over the world. For an activist like me, this frustrates my plans of taking over the world constantly. Haha! ; )

      When I read about "cold winters" in the first sentence of your sencond paragraph I thought: "Cold winters? Haha, it's probably like 65 and for them it's cold." Then, I thought I should check. I did and I was wrong. You guys actually get down to freezing (which I didn't think was the case) and even some snow. Thanks for that little lesson. I'm still terrible at geography though, haha!!

      "my dad for one, had to labor with shoddy tools" - I think I told You the story about my father bringing a scythe blade in his suitcase from Romania, here in Toronto. When I think of all the work my grandma did at the farm back home and even my sister and I as kids's like another life looking back at it now.

      "(a) ground that had the huge word, “Purgatory,” dug into the middle of the fields" - I have so much to say about this but I'm not going to say much. All I will do is ask: "why did it have to be so hard?" (The quotation marks are there because it wasn't my question initially. I borrowed it. Seems to be a somewhat common question.)

      "respect for one’s self and your neighbors" - "Respect" was what I wrote about in my last piece of writing. Without respect we can't have well-functioning communities/societies. It is a critical component that we need to have. Respect is needed towards all other living beings, not just humans but at least if we can learn to respect each other ... ffsk lol

      "you have to be careful not to let the outside stickers to get the best of you" - So, cotton has spikes? I've never seen cotton growing.

      "You can tell your friends near and far that life was never easy in rural Alabama." - It wasn't easy in rural Romania either and from what I hear it wasn't easy in rural Canada either. Farmers are committing suicide in India now in great numbers. It's not easy for sure, just harder in some places than others.

      The person who commented before me, talking about his parents wrote: "They only knew that hard work and no fun were the only way of life." No critique to your parents, or any of our parents but that sentence reminded me of the movie "The Shining", with Jack Nicholson: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy".

      "Deal?" - Sure. If You say so. ; )

      Until again, all the best!

    • whonunuwho profile image


      2 years ago from United States

      Kenneth my parents were just like yours. They only knew that hard work and no fun were the only way of life. I too, worked through high school and junior college. Many members worked in cotton mills in that area of Alabama. I worked in one during a Summer break between college courses. I have do admit, that hard work helped me later on in my life. Blessings. whonu


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