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Cotton Pickin'

bearridge

Well-Known Member
Mar 9, 2005
3,092
4
way down yonder
#1
I bet I aint the only one who lived this tale frum Newt.

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Picking Cotton

I'll bet I've done at least one thing in my life that very few, if any of you have, I've picked cotton. I’m not talking about just going out into a field by the roadside and pulling a few bolls to show your kids or grandkids what cotton looks like up close, nor am I talking about operating one of those monstrous cotton picking machines they use nowadays to pick cotton. No sir, I'm talking about working from daylight to dark, pulling a cotton sack strapped to your shoulder, scratching up your hands and arms on cotton burrs while pulling those little white bolls of cotton, and putting them in your sack…I've done that.

When I was 7 or 8 years old, I was visiting my Grandma and Grandpa who lived down around Corpus Christi in a rural area out near the municipal airport. Grandpa was a superintendent for Corgey Drilling Co. and he and grandma lived in a house at the company headquarters. In addition to my grandparent’s house and Mr. Corgey’s house, there were several smaller places for the families of Mexican laborers working on Mr. Corgey’s properties.

There were several Mexican children near my age and it didn't take long for us to make friends. I remember a boy named Tony and twin girls named Rita and Deedee. They called me Nootie. They spoke little English and I knew next to nothing about Spanish, but we communicated well enough to have a great time playing kid games around the pipe racks and stacks of drilling mud and equipment in the company compound.

Grandma said with my Cajun complexion darkened by a summer tan, the only way she could tell me from my new friends was my blond head sticking out among all the others’ black and she soon remedied that by buying me a kid size straw hat…just like my Mexican friends wore.

One Saturday afternoon my friends invited me to a fiesta the following day. Their families were celebrating the cotton being ready to pick. After Sunday’s fiesta everyone in the family would be busy in the fields from daylight until dark picking cotton so they were having one last celebration before the work started.

My promise of good behavior earned grandma’s permission to attend the party. I don’t know what I expected, maybe something like a birthday party where they played pin the tail on the donkey and games like that, but this fiesta was like nothing I'd seen before.

There were 20 or 25 adults and about half as many children. Most everyone was still dressed in their church-going clothes and there were two men playing the guitar and accordion. Everyone was talking at once in Spanish and drinking, laughing and singing happy songs. There were a couple of grills cooking pollo (chicken) and puerco (pork) which I recognized from helping my daddy barbecue, plus there were several other things cooking that didn't look familiar, but everything smelled terrific.

Tony and the girls introduced me as “Nootie” to everyone, but the only ones I remember was Senora Guzman, the twins’ mother, Senora Maria, Tony’s mother and Tio Pancho who I learned was the Jefe or boss, which explained why everyone was keeping him happy.

We had a good time playing, eating good food and watching the goings-on at the fiesta. During the fiesta, we decided since the kids couldn't play with me during cotton picking time, I should pick cotton with them. It must've been our language differences, but it sounded like a fun idea as I pictured us picking a little cotton and then spending the rest of the day playing in the tall rows of cotton.

The kids convinced their mamas and when grandma came for me, the mamas promised to watch out for me if I wanted to go to the fields the next day. Reluctantly, grandma agreed and I left with her, promising to see everyone early the next morning.

That evening grandma and grandpa tried to talk me out of my cotton picking adventure, explaining there would be no play involved and how hard the work was. Their talk didn’t change my mind and actually increased my resolve…I was going to be a real grownup bracero and work in the fields all day doing bracero things. I went to bed with visions of being a legitimate cotton picker and earning a bunch of money to show my parents when I returned home.

Morning came mighty early when I got up at 4:30 to get dressed and eat breakfast with grandpa and daylight found me loading into the back of the truck with all the other hands. The ride to the field was uneventful. Everyone was very quiet and low key, nowhere near as boisterous as they’d been the day before.

Directly the truck stopped, everyone climbed out and the Jefe assigned the crews. Tony, Rita, Deedee and I were working with Senora Guzman and Senora Maria, who were sisters, and several older teenaged boys who were their cousins.

Senora Guzman gave everyone a cotton sack. The older boys and adults had one about 8 or 10 feet long strung out behind them and us youngsters had one about 4 feet. Senora got everyone started on their rows, then came back, helped me to put on my sack correctly, and showed me how to pick the cotton and put it in my sack, as the other kids watched and waited for me.

I started out tentatively plucking one boll at a time and putting it into my sack. When I looked up everyone was at least 20 feet ahead of me. Senora Guzman came back and showed me how to pick with both hands and to turn the mouth of my sack in such a way that I could quickly deposit the bolls. Soon I had the hang of it and was keeping up with the other kids fairly well and not missing too many bolls.

There was very little talk, just pulling cotton and the occasional grunt or ouch when a burr scratched somebody. I was glad grandma had insisted I wear a long sleeved shirt because those cotton burrs sure did like to stick and scratch bare skin.

The sun started to get hot and it wasn’t even 8:00 in the morning yet. I was already sweating, so much for being used to the heat. I took off my hat, wiped my brow with my sleeve, and glanced ahead. I couldn’t believe we’d been picking forever and were just barely past midway in our first row. I looked into my sack and was disappointed to see that I had picked just barely enough to cover the bottom. I began to think I wasn’t going to like this bracero stuff too much.

Finally, I reached the end of the row and was ready for a little rest stop, but everyone just turned around and began picking back the other way. So it went, down and back and down and back, occasionally stopping for a drink of water from the communal tin cup on the turn row. My friends were just doing the same thing as I was and had very little to say except, “hurry up Nootie, you’re getting behind again.” This sure wasn’t turning out to be a fun time.

When we finally stopped for lunch, the sun was really beating down and I don’t think I had a dry place on me, even my shoes were squishy from the sweat running down my legs into my socks. We found some shade under the truck and ate our tortillas filled with the food left from yesterday’s fiesta. It tasted good, but not good enough to put anyone in a fiesta mood. Mostly we just sat and rested in the shade and hoped for a little breeze to cool us off. Too soon, the Jefe came around and weighed our sacks. I had about two thirds of a sack, but couldn’t see the scale when he weighed it. He tallied the total on his sheet by my name, and then dumped the contents into the trailer and it was time to start again.

If anything, the afternoon crawled by slower and a lot hotter than the morning. It was the same drill, up and down the rows picking and getting scratched and putting the white bolls in the sack just as fast as you could.

Sometime during the afternoon I had to use the bathroom and asked Tony where it was. He and the twins laughed like that was the funniest joke they’d ever heard and Tony told me just to find a place to go, the whole field was my bathroom. I was embarrassed and would’ve punched Tony, but they were too far ahead of me to waste the energy to catch him, so I found a handy cotton plant to stand behind and took care of my business. I spent about thirty minutes being embarrassed and mad until the twins got the same urge and giggled as they found a convenient cotton plant.

Then it was back to the pick, pick, picking some more. The more I picked, the more I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a bracero, maybe a cowboy or a garbage man or a pilot, but definitely not a bracero. “Prisa Nootie,” “Hurry up Nootie,” everyone waited at the turn row for me. After a shot of the communal water, we started back the other way…I decidedly wasn’t having fun. This bracero stuff wasn’t all it's cranked up to be. Up and back, up and back, pull those bolls and put ‘em in the sack. I tripped on a clod and fell down, spilling part of my cotton. I didn’t get in too big of a hurry picking it up, enjoying the brief rest. “Prisa Nootie” they yelled from the end of the row.

Finally, when the sun was just about down, the Jefe drove down the turn row honking and saying, “Esta parando tiempo,” “it’s quitting time.” I believe he could’ve been yelling “free money” and it wouldn’t have sounded near as good to me…I was ass-draggin’ beat and plumb wore out. I managed to pick the rest of my row and handed my sack to the Jefe who weighed, tallied and dumped it. I was too tired to care how much it weighed. I was just glad the day was over. I barely made it into the truck with a boost from one of the teenaged boys. As we rode home the folks were in a much better mood than this morning, everyone was glad to get the day over with…none more so than me.

I was glad to see grandma waiting in the car for me when the truck pulled up to the Mexicans’ house, I don’t think I could’ve made the walk to her house. Everyone piled out of the truck and lined up for their wages. When it came my turn the Jefe looked at his tally sheet and counted out one dollar bill, two quarters and two nickels into my hand…That marked my last day as a bracero.

That's been over 60 years ago, but I’ve picked cotton.
 

Wannabe

Well-Known Member
Apr 5, 2007
2,631
1
on the bank of Trinity Bay
#2
I enjoyed that Bear,
When I was about 4 my mother made me a cotton pickin sack our of a flour sack. I had a strap and all. We went to the cotton field where my dad and a bunch of other folk were picking his cotton. I went down the row where my Dad was and started picking cotton. I remember picking 4 or 5 bowls, put them in my sack, climed a top my Dads sack and rode the rest of the way to the end of the row, got off and my Mom took me back to the house. That, Sir is the extent of my cotton picking experience.
Least ole Newt hung in there for the full day.
Bob
 

buckisland1950

Well-Known Member
Aug 15, 2007
191
0
Savannah, GA
#4
Had a like experience when staying with my Grandparents in Oklahoma when I was a very young man. Lasted a day if I remember right. Add that to a day of Strawberry picking in Colorado and a day of Hay baling and I can account for 3 days of actual work in my lifetime. Been there, done that, hopefully never again. :roll:
 

seedtick

Well-Known Member
Jul 22, 2006
1,141
4
Denham Springs, LA
#5
never picked cotton
but i have picked strawberries and pulled corn in back of a mule and a wagon
the worst for me was picking up hay bales........

reckon i wasn't cut out to be a farmer either
 

leeh

Well-Known Member
Jul 24, 2009
67
0
#6
Never picked cotton. Have been involved in hay bailing. And some shoveling. Didn't much like it. Had I known the Summer Of Love and all that hippie laying around was in the semi-near future, I might have been more enthusiastic.
 

swamprat

Well-Known Member
Aug 28, 2003
374
0
Venus Fl.
members.findmoore.net
#7
No cotton down this way but oranges were my nemisis. One day of that and I'd had enough. A 4X4X4 bin paid 5 bucks ( I think) Took me most of the day to fill one while the mexican family, next row over knocked em out 5 times as fast. Send the kids up the tree to shake the oranges off and momma and poppa tossed em in the bins. I went home that day broke in more ways than one... I still think about the groves when a glass of juice shows up on the table