|A picture of a childpicker from Lewis Hines photos|
Why is She (he) so cotton picking happy? To understand it more fully, I think I'll go back a generation or two to the lives of my mother and her family. I have no photos as they had no camera back then, but I have stories and readings from others regarding picking those cotton fields. I only came to more fully understand that expression about three years ago, driving down long miles of cotton fields. Now of course, almost all fields have giant machines, but still looking at the vastness of the picking area on a small cotton field, I am awed by the idea of Joy in Hand picking Cotton. I did have hubby pull over and I looked closely at some of the plants and saw how hard they would be to pick and painful too! And I thought of my family and others who were cotton pickers to earn the much needed extra money for what we now call poverty families sustained by dirt farming and a few jobs like working in coal mines or temporary hard labor field or farmhand jobs. So the cotton picking bridged the gap between hunger and starvation.
|Miles and Miles of Cotton Fields in Alabama in 2013|
I have been told children were expected to work as long as adults but often fell behind on their work and the adults I imagine had to scold over and over to look all around and get all the cotton! The field boss would not look kindly at wasted cotton and I was told pay was reduced even further if he saw it. I never heard my Mother complain about her cotton picking days. Simply "we did it to help out". And that was the attitude that it was expected that all helped with picking, canning, animals, housework, do your school work, you just do! Oh there were occasionally fishing and playing in the yards, but it was not an everyday joy. You see with Granny's garden and their efforts, I know no one ever starved but I imagine that the children never knew how marginal they were. And that if, for example, the well failed, so would they.
Leather gloves were a thing of rich folks in those days. I heard of picking in rag wrapped hands with the fingers open to careful picking, some used old socks that could not be mended and the more wealthy had new cotton gloves at the beginning of the season. These were not supplied by the field owner or his supervisor. In the 1910's through 1930's I cannot imagine many of the pickers with leather gloves. In fact the only leather glove I found at my Granny'w when I played dress up was a carefully packed in a box pair of leather going to church gloves my Mother bought her, that like all the precious gifts were kept in a bureau or chest in original box and papers. Somehow that was customary for that generation....They didn't return or regift as moderns do, but they cherished the gifts, no matter, how "off the mark" they were. My sweet Mother born of the Country and then 90% citified didn't realize HER mother needed cotton ones even for her garden, that's what she used, but I imagine that Granny would have preferred her cotton gloves or no gloves at all. But mostly Granny put those strong wonderful hands straight in the dirt and on the plants. all that gardening. But I digress, back to the Cotton picker gratitude.
For the 1910's to the 1930's cotton picking meant:
- Getting up before sunrise and coming home after sunset often 12+ hour days
- Eating a biscuit or two for sustenance and drinking water from a pail with a dipper
- Poor fitting shoes, if shoes at all
- No gloves, just rag wrapped hands
- Breathing the perpetual dust and toxic cotton spray and then later many got Farmers lung, pneumonias and tb
- Sunburn, torn hands, cuts and scraps and hurting backs and feet
- A pittance for pay and no minimum wage and no benefits other than brief break
- Walking both to and from the fields
- Being so Dog Tired that some just laid on the floor after evening meal to tired to wash up
- And then repeating this over and over and over until the crop was in
- The field supervisor was not friendly or understanding and wanted no excuses and would have none
- You were replacable in an area that needed any kind of coins they could earn.