Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pickin Cotton or Cotton Pickin...

The other day Mama was talking about picking cotton when I was little. She, daddy, and I literally had nothing but each other, well we had very little, and I was sick a lot. Daddy worked all the time when he could find work, and Mama worked at different things to help out, or if she wanted something extra.

I remember her picking cotton to get enough money to buy me a panda teddy bear when I was ten years old. Teddy is a little worse for love-wear, but I still have him. He is coming up on his 50th birthday.

Whoops! I told how old I am didn't I?

I told that because it triggered a memory for me. When I've been asked through life what my first paying job was, I've always said I worked one day in Skinner's 5 & 10 Store during my Senior year.

It was on a Saturday, during the Christmas rush. I was extremely shy and absolutely terrified. I was told to watch a couple of little girls that came in because they were bad to shoplift things. I was glad I didn't see them pick up anything, because I don't think I could have said anything. Then one of the ladies that worked there all the time got onto me because I wasn't making bows for gift wrapping when I wasn't busy otherwise. I didn't stop shaking all day long.

I did, however, stay until the end of the day, and was paid three dollars. I bought Mama some artifical roses in a pretty vase for Christmas from the same store. Mrs. Doris was very sweet to me, always, even when I didn't go back on Monday.

But I realize now that that actually wasn't my very first paying job.

Mama's sister and her husband lived next to a large cotton field owned by their brother-in-law. Mama and her sister had both gone to work at the new factory in town, so my maternal grandmother stayed at my aunt's house and took care of her three little girls. I stayed either with them or my paternal grandmother, who lived just a short piece down the country road. I often stayed one place until I got bored, then walked to the other. It was safer then, and I was around ten or eleven years old.

I grew up with and loved my younger cousins. They are still more like sisters to me than cousins.

Anyway, nobody had air conditioning back then, at least in our families, so most of the hot days were spent outside under a good shade tree. Granny broke beans, or whatever her task was at the time, while she watched over us playing. Ten year olds still played back then. Papa was often sitting nearby with a songbook in his hand singing the songs in do-re-mi notes, his favorite past time.

Since there was only a fence between the cotton field and my aunt's yard, we saw all the people bent over picking cotton during the hot days, then taking those large cotton sacks to the truck to be weighed. It looked like fun to my oldest cousin, who was five or six at the time, and me. We begged Granny into letting us go pick cotton. You know how grannys are. We wore her down.

The other two cousins were too little to go, but she gave Rhonda and me each a flour sack. I think mine was green with little gold threads running through it. Flour came in large cotton sacks back then. The material was used for all sorts of things, but that's another story, and yes, I'm that old. :)

We crawled over the fence and timidly found us a spot where there weren't many people. We were both very bashful and at first stood back and watched what the others were doing; seeing how they pulled the little white fluffs off the bolls and put them into their very large cotton sacks.

Then we began to pull off the soft white fluffs, being careful to dodge the stickery things, and put them into our flour sacks. We thought we were doing great and were so proud of ourselves. We each had some cotton in our sacks.

Then one of Rhonda's older male cousins talked her into giving him her cotton, which she did, because she trusted him and didn't know he was taking advantage of her. I think I fussed on her for giving it to him and she cried because she didn't have any left to sell. I felt bad for her.

We were getting hot, tired, and bored anyway. It seemed like we'd been there for hours, but it was probably more like an hour. I helped her pick some more cotton for her sack. Neither sack was even half full, but we marched right up to where the cotton was being weighed and handed Rhonda's uncle our sacks.

Uncle Robert was a kind man and went through the motions of weighing each of our sacks just like he did everyone else's.

Neither of us actually had three cents worth of cotton, I'm sure, but he gave each of us a dime. We were so proud of the dimes that we had earned picking cotton and couldn't wait to show Granny and tell our mamas.

A dime would buy a lot of candy when the peddlar came by.

And that is how picking cotton was my first paying job...and Rhonda's too, I'm sure, although she was probably too young to remember. It's a great memory for me though.

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