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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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