|George 'Buster' Singleton|
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Today’s youth should try picking cotton” was originally published in the Oct. 6, 1994 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)
Don’t think me foolish or stupid, but as I look at the youth of today, many thoughts go through my mind. When I was growing up, about this time of the year the only thought to occupy my mind was how I was going to survive the coming season of picking cotton.
I wonder how our youth would face the fact that each evening after school a cotton sack was waiting and about three hours of hard, hot work was to be endured before darkness fell on the opened cotton fields. And if the picking got behind, it meant that perhaps a day or two of school had to be missed to help catch up.
As it became too dark to pick, the evening’s cotton was weighed by the light of a coal oil lantern. Then the loose cotton was piled in the cotton house until enough had been gathered to weigh out a bale. As the cotton sacks were laid aside, it was time for the evening meal and then time to face up to the homework that had been brought from school.
If all went well, around 9 p.m., you just might get the chance to listen to a few minutes of the battery-powered Philco radio that sat on a table in the corner of the room. Regardless how interesting the events on the radio, when bed time was called, all activity ceased; everyone went to bed.
Saturdays were most always set aside for trips to the cotton gin; the breaking dawn found the menfolks loading the wagon with white, fluffy cotton. If you were real lucky, you might get the chance to accompany your father or older brother on the trip to the cotton gin.
This boy knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this would be an all-day journey. This meant that I would probably get a stick of candy from the store located next to the cotton gin. And sometimes, if the money was available, I just might get to dine on a piece of hoop cheese and some crackers and a cold RC Cola.
Anyway, the chance of getting these goodies was worth getting up before daylight and spending the next two or three hours on the road atop a loaded wagon to the cotton gin. But, the trip had its good points; this small boy could snuggle down in the cotton and sleep most of the way to the cotton gin. Nothing ever felt so good as being nestled down in the warm cotton as the cool autumn winds danced across the winding country road in the early hours of the morning.
Upon arrival at the cotton gin, each wagon had to take its place in line and wait for its turn to get the cotton ginned. This was a time to catch up on all the news around the area and swap stories about various horses, coon dogs or whatever. If things went well, I might be given a nickel and allowed to go across the road to the store and purchase a large stick of peppermint candy.
The stick of candy would be about 10 inches long and about an inch in diameter. Eating this stick of hard candy would keep a small country boy busy for almost a whole morning, unless he was ordered to share it with someone else. If it was shared with an older brother, the stick of candy usually disappeared in a hurry.
The hours slowly passed as the line of loaded wagons moved up for a turn at the cotton gin. Those who lived the farthest from the cotton gin were always the last to get their cotton unloaded and ginned. Finally, as the evening shadows slowly crept across the road from the country store, plans were made for the return trip home.
A small, tired boy had already begun to make plans to bed down in back of the wagon bed on some heavy cotton bagging. He remembered how good the large stick of candy had tasted that morning and found himself wishing that he had saved some of it for a later time, for the trip home; it would have made the return trip much more pleasant. But, buying another stick was out of the question.
The sounds of mules being unhitched from the wagon caused an awakening country boy to realize that he had slept through all of the return trip home. Too tired and sleepy to make the trip to the house and a bath before going to bed, this small boy nestled down on a pile of cotton in the cotton house to spend the few remaining hours of the night.
He knew that his concerned father or a darling mother would awaken and rescue him in time for Sunday morning breakfast. As sleep was about to settle across the pile of cotton, this small boy would feel the warm body of a large cur dog named Jack, as he nestled close against his back. Sleep then came quickly there on the large pile of cotton, his protector and companion now at his side.
My mother would stand by the large pile of cotton the following morning. Wiping the tears from her eyes with the corner of her apron, she looked down on her sleeping child and the large cur dog nestled close against his back. She knew that no harm would come to her boy as long as ole Jack was there to protect and watch over him.
Some say that we have progressed greatly since the days of the Great Depression. I’m not too sure that this is true. Perhaps not everyone can recall the fond memories of those times of picking cotton and the trips to the cotton gin.
With our modern-day machinery and the absence of a field full of people picking the snow-white cotton by hand, our youth have missed something. I do not wish to return to those days that I have mentioned. But then again, it just might not hurt anything to see some of our youth bending over a long row of snow-white cotton with a half-filled cotton sack dragging behind.
I do not profess to know everything, but I believe that we have lost something of great value within our society and our families. The togetherness and the deep love that I experienced as a child seems to have faded a bit as we rally around the boob tube and go forth into our world of make believe.
The snow-white cotton fields had a way of bringing us together. Picking some cotton by hand now and then just might not be a bad idea, even today.
(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)