Saturday, August 27, 2016

George Singleton fondly remembers the old-timey days of cotton picking

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 “Memories of cotton fields” was originally published in the Sept. 4, 2003 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

As the autumn season slowly begins to make its way across the land, memories of many wonderful times begin to fill my mind. Thinking back to the times that I experienced as a young boy, growing up in the country, I almost feel sorry for our youth of today because of the many happenings and good times they have missed.

This past Friday, my wife and I made our way down through the southern part of our county. As we passed the vast cotton fields, slowly becoming snow white in color, with the opening cotton glowing in the afternoon air, it was almost like going back in time. The long rows of opening cotton brought back many memories of gathering the fluffy cotton by hand while dragging a long cotton sack along the row.

Our youth of today know absolutely nothing about a long, hot day in the cotton fields. They could not in any way describe a day of bending over and picking cotton from dawn to dust.

In looking back, I remember how I used to hate that long cotton sack and that 12-hour work day in the cotton field. But as I traveled through the opening cotton fields near Uriah, I almost wished that I had the chance to pick some more cotton the old-fashioned way. Remember, I said that I almost wished.

As we rode along down Highway 59, I asked my wife if she had anything that I could cover up my head with; I related to her that I had a severe pain in my back. Believing that I was having back pains, she couldn’t understand why I needed to cover my head if my back was hurting. I told her that seeing that open cotton, and the memories of having to pick the white stuff caused the pains in my back. Needless to say, she didn’t think that very funny.

If I had to select the one of the fondest memories of cotton picking time, one would be when the cotton pickers would stop their work for the lunch meal. Lunch would be sent from the house, packed in several large dish pans.

Near the large field that we called the “Lewis field,” there was a large creek nearby. Under the shade of several large oak trees that grew on the high bank of the creek, this was where dinner would be served. After the blessing was said by Uncle Tony, an old black man that my family cared for, the fun time got underway.

Words can hardly describe the excitement experienced by a small country boy there under the large oaks. Tall tales told by the older workers of the group were almost breathtaking. And, when the work day was done, this tired small boy would lay awake for some time and re-live the stories that he had heard earlier.

Almost every farmer in the area had a “cotton house.” This was where the freshly picked cotton was stored until enough had been picked to carry to the cotton gin. Some of my fondest memories were being allowed by my darling mother to spend Friday and Saturday nights, sleeping on the fluffy cotton, there in the cotton house.

I don’t believe that a bed exists today that would be as comfortable as that large fluffy pile of cotton was to this small country boy. My bed partner was always a very large cur dog that we owned named “Jack.”

Jack would curl up against my back and sleep there the entire night, unless something moved or made a noise of some kind and disturbed his sleep. Jack was a good-natured dog, but everyone knew that when he growled, Jack meant business.

Always after I had gone to sleep, my guardian angel “Uncle Tony,” would come over to the cotton house and lay down nearby. If the air was chilly, he would cover me with an old quilt or put cotton over me to keep me warm.

But cotton picking was not the only thing going on around the farm at this time of year. This was also the time for cooking lye hominy by the home folks. Fresh shelled corn would be placed in a large wash pot and this would be cooked over an open fire for several hours. The good times were getting to be around the cooking fire as the hominy was cooking. There was always a chance of being given a tea cake or a large piece of peanut candy by my dear friend, Aunt Lellia.

This wonderful old black lady looked to my family for her well-being and all her needs. She had no family to care for her, so she depended on my family for her survival. Since Aunt Lellia had delivered me when I was born, I was very special to this dear and wonderful old lady. She always saw to it that I got the special pieces of candy or any of the samples of pie or cake that might need to be tasted.

Aunt Lellia was the absolute authority in the community on cooking lye hominy. She was always sought out by various families when there was hominy to be cooked. No one dared to question this dear old lady, about her cooking knowledge. But everyone knew for sure that when she said that it was ready, the hominy was ready to eat.

A hominy supper would most times be held on a Friday or Saturday night. Several families would get together for a wonderful time of fellowship and hominy eating. Other food, such as cakes, pies and many other goodies, would be brought along by those attending the supper.

Those of my readers that has not ever attended a lye hominy supper in a country community has missed a great event in life. The fun and games and the fellowship among those present was something to be remembered.

If you have never tried to eat two or three half-ripe persimmons and then try to whistle, then you wouldn’t have been a good contestant in the around the fire games. Always someone would show up with a small paper sack full of half-ripe persimmons. After the meal, then it was time for the persimmon and whistle contest. Take it from me, it’s not an easy thing to do, to try and whistle after eating three or four half-ripe persimmons. Nevertheless, the fun and good times was worth the drawn-up mouth.

These good times that some of us experienced as a child, growing up on the farm, played a very important part in the molding of our lives. I will be the first to admit that times have changed since those days of the middle and late 30s.

But as I see the carelessness and “don’t care” attitude of some of our youth of today, we might need to go back to the long cotton rows and the heavy cotton sacks. As for now, we can only hope; only time will tell what waits on the horizon.

(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, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County in June 1964 (some sources say 1961) and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” 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.)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this glimpse into the past. I never knew the author, but he sounds like he lived an intersting life. Stories like this are as close as I think we'll ever get to time travel. The written word has the power to transport us to another time.