| This is the 599th story of Our Life Logs® |
For as long as I can remember, I lived and worked on the Corbin Plantation in Lambert, Mississippi, with my family. I am the ninth of fourteen children, born in 1948 to Robert and Virginia Long. In return for overseeing the field hands who worked the land, our family was given forty acres of cropland that we could work on and profit from ourselves.
Working on the farm was all I knew. Mama woke us at 5 AM with the smell of fresh coffee, bacon and eggs frying. I hated having to get up early but, it was worth it. The bacon came from our smokehouse pigs, cured from the winter, and the eggs from the henhouse. I watched as my daddy and brothers stunned the pigs and hoisted them up on a rack to cut them open and clean them out. The smell made me want to puke. I felt sorry for the pigs as they squealed and squirmed, but I have to say, the bacon and sausage made from them were delicious.
“Breakfast is ready!” Mama would call from the kitchen.
We children would race to the kitchen saying things like, “OOH that smells so good!”
“Sit down and eat,” my daddy said. “We do not want to be late.”
After the “God is good, God is great” prayer was hastily recited, the meal began. This was no John Boy Walton peaceful meal where the kids took their places hurriedly. The Walton daddy and mother would be calmly encouraging the children to sit up straight and eat because they would be late for school. But my daddy sternly said, “Hurry up and eat.” We didn’t have time for sitting up straight. We had to get out to the fields to start the day.
After eating, I’d return to my room to finish getting ready for a long day outdoors. Well, I say my room, but all my sisters slept there. My oldest sister got her own twin bed and the rest of us split two full-sized beds between the five of us. It was hot and cramped in the summer months, but it wasn’t so bad in the wintertime.
Anyways, the hardest part of working on the farm was getting up early and working in the hot sun for 10 hours a day. It wore you down after a while, but it was our duty, and I couldn’t let my family take on the extra work just because I was tired.
With one last yell from daddy, I’d head outside to secure my place on the truck before the hired hands arrived. They’d soon arrive a short distance down the dusty road. The hired hands included a full-bearded Negro man, Mr. Moses Dawson and his very plump wife Roberta. Behind them was a pack of boys, ages ranging from 9-18, and two girls in ragged dresses with no sleeves, no shoes and no hat.
“Mornin’ folks,” said Mr. Dawson.
“Good morning,” we all said in unison as they climbed aboard the truck.
The girls, Shonda and Keisha often came to our house on weekends to play in the yard and enjoy a cold glass of iced tea and maybe a cookie or two. We saw them as friends to play with, not poor little black girls like many others did at that time. Shonda was the serious, older child. Keisha had a beautiful voice and would get the family singing their spiritual songs in the field. They were even poorer than my family, but I never heard them complain. I never sensed the feeling of superiority either because we were all the same except, they had a better “suntan” than I did.
Reaching the field, everybody piled out of the truck and hurriedly reached for their specially marked hoe. Mine had a blue and red string tied around the cutting end of the hoe. Everybody fell in line next to each other, taking the next available row to begin work. The cotton row was a steady stand of cotton plants that had grown to about eight to ten inches high that had to be thinned out and weeded. To make a uniform cut required leaving the width of the hoe blade (that was six inches) between two or three plant stalks continuously down the row. Then you’d cut out any grass or weeds that might surround the plants.
Those days were hard on my fair skin. And while I had a hat to keep the sun off, those rays beat down on me. Some days, it pummeled me. Still, I got up each day and worked my hardest. That’s just how I was raised.
After three or four hours of working in the heat, Daddy would call one of us out to be the water bearer. On the days I was chosen, I went to the truck and drew up a bucket of cold water from the ice cooler. Then, I’d pick up two long-handled tin dippers. I always felt bad when I had to hand one dipper to a white person and a separate dipper for the black person. After all, the dippers were in the same bucket, so what did it matter? But this was how it was done in the South.
When the sun got too fiery, Daddy would pick up his hoe and put it across his shoulder so we knew it was time to head to the truck for lunch. Once we got home, I headed to the kitchen for one of Mama’s delicious meals. Usually, they came from our vegetable garden. My older siblings would tell tales of only having a slice of buttered bread for their meals and sometimes not having the butter, but I was lucky to have never remembered leaving the table hungry. After our fill, we would lay down for a fifteen-minute rest time before going back out to the fields for five more hours of work before dark set in.
Here and there we rested, but there was no time to fan yourself. If you weren’t on the farm, you were hauling water from the pump house to the metal tub we had at home. Still, it was better than the 10-hour days during cotton-pickin’ season. I remember thinking that those days would never end.
On those days, I could pick between 250 and 300 pounds of cotton if I wanted to. The heavy sacks were thrown over our shoulders and carried to the scales to be weighed and emptied into a huge trailer and sent to be bailed only to be refilled as many times as possible before quitting for the day. This was repeated five and a half days every week.
When it came to school, we went on the first day to get our books, then we wouldn’t return ‘til the crops were in around Thanksgiving. Unless it rained—and oh, how I used to pray for rain.
● ● ●
Life as a sharecropper’s daughter fostered a strong and unwavering work ethic in me. The rest of my life would have been so different if not for the fields.