IT’S A SOUTHERN SUNDAY…So settle down with a cool glass of iced tea and get ready for another wonderful story
by Contributing Editor, Alle Wells..
I loved visiting my grandmother’s farm during the long summer days of my childhood. The early morning dew sprinkled the blades of grass felt moist between my bare toes. The tenant farmer and his family were already at work when we reached the big, old pack house. The men and boys stood on open rafters and passed sticks hung with dried tobacco to the women below. The farmer’s wife and daughters stacked the tobacco sticks next to wooden horses on the floor.
Being very young, I wasn’t allowed inside the pack house. Grandmama warned that I might fall through a hole in the floor and break my leg. As the big yellow sun heated the white sand beneath my feet, I adjusted my eyes to peer into the darkness beyond the big double doors. A teenage girl stood at a wooden horse holding a stick of dried tobacco. She pulled the golden leaves from the stick, to the left and to then right. The string grew longer as she gathered the bundles in her hands. She handed her load to the older women sitting in a circle in straight-backed chairs. The women sorted the leaves into piles of ones, twos, and threes. The sorted piles of leaves would be gathered in burlap bundles and sold at the market.
Quickly bored by the process, I turned my attention to chasing the wild kittens that roamed freely through the rows of butterbeans behind the pack house. At noon, the tenant farmer pulled the leather strap that rang the rusty, old lunch bell. The farmer’s family, Grandmama, and I ate tomato sandwiches and sliced watermelon at the picnic table under an enormous pecan tree. After lunch, Grandmama retired in front of the window fan to watch “As The World Turns”, while I took a nap.
As I grew older, I never grew tired of visiting Grandmama’s farm during the summer. At fourteen, I rocked in the swing on the front porch and watched the sun rise over the flat land beyond the open fields. Two pickup trucks arrived at seven o’clock sharp delivering sixteen teenagers to harvest the tobacco growing in the field next to the house. Light banter filled the hazy morning air as the kids, the age as me, took their places on the rickety red tobacco harvester. The crazy contraption looked to be nothing more than double-decker scaffolding on wheels covered with a tarp.
The boys settled their young, lean bodies on curved metal seats at the base of the harvesters. As the farm machinery began to move, they cropped or picked the leaves from the stalk. Working from the bottom of the harvester must have been an uncomfortable and stifling job. Large wet leaves slapped their faces as they pulled at the stalks. The girls stood on the upper level with plenty of tobacco twine at hand. Quick-handedly, they snatched the sticky leaves oozing with sap from moving pulleys and looped the bundles with twine onto a stick, alternating side to side. Soon the naked tobacco sticks wore fat, green hula skirts and were hoisted to overhead racks.
I watched the harvesters move up and down the thick, rich rows of green tobacco while shelling butterbeans into a bowl. At ten o’clock, the harvesters stopped at the starting point. The boys jumped from the seats below and stacked the green tobacco on trucks to be delivered to the curing barn at the end of the field. Then the boys and girls sat on the bank next to the field and waited for the driver to bring their morning Nehi’s and Moon Pies.
I couldn’t peel my eyes away from those kids who didn’t know that I watched them from the front porch. The rustic charm of hard working country boys gnawed at the heart of a city girl like me. I admired their dark tans and the sweat drenched muscles shining through their ragged clothes. The boys flirted, and the pigtailed girls punched at the boys’ arms. When the trucks returned, the sweat drenched kids devoured their morning snack with hands stained by the sweet gum from the tobacco leaves. I looked down at my crisply starched white blouse and soft clean hands, and I wished that I was one of them.