Picking cotton

For half a dozen years, my mother, younger sisters and I worked in the cotton fields, in fields that were our responsibility and those belonging to other farmers. Picking was bloody on the fingers and backbreaking, especially since my mother could pick 100 pounds a day. (Her sister-in-law could pick 300 pounds any day.) We hired out for three cents per pound and, at the end of the season, sometimes four cents. In our town, school was cancelled during cotton-picking season because farmers would be angry if they didn't have help. So we started school, took a break, and returned after the crop was in.

One year we planted seeds that produced cotton stalks higher than our heads. The leaves were large and shielded long worms that produced painful stings when we reached inside the plants to pluck the cotton from the bolls. We really hated that year.

Another year, in another place, the weather made it impossible to finish picking the cotton early, so we were still in the fields when really cold weather made the picking miserable. Eventually, Mother told us to pull off the whole bolls and put them in our sacks. We pulled out the cotton in front of the fireplace and warmed ourselves before returning for more bolls.

Richard Culyer, Hartsville, S.C., Pee Dee Electric EMC

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