Arriving here in the Bootheel, in late May, I had big ideas about growing a cotton plant. As some of you readers may recall, this notion was met with a lot of laughter and not a few scoffs, not to mention downright derision. This only served to increase my determination. It also got me to thinking about where and when this idea was birthed, so now, well into the 21st century and in the midst of a derangement I call the Politics of Cotton, I can only reflect upon how innocent this plant is in our ongoing and sometimes bloody discourse on racism.
Back home, cotton was on my back; never on my personal radar. Sometime in the last quarter of the 20th century, I was on one of my brief and widely spaced visits to Caruthersville. Pirate pointed out a lone cotton plant that was well into its maturity and he plucked a boll and presented it to me. I still have that soft, white bit of fluff. Three or four years ago I plucked a friend for it off of a landscaping plant outside of the New Madrid Museum. It was February 2014 and a few brave little plants stood up to the below freezing weather, their beds as white as the bolls that still adorned them. Now I had two Bootheel bolls.
Along the way, I have heard family stories, some going back generations, of growing cotton. It is hard, dirty, and painful work at harvest time. In the extreme heat, farm owners, sharecroppers, and laborers were all out in the fields picking, bagging, sweating, and toiling together. And, in that heat, they shared the same water from the same barrel. Only one thing mattered; bringing in the crop.
These bits of lore fascinated me and inspired me so, not unexpectedly, I wanted to be a part of this story. It seemed like an ideal way to fit in and identify with the entire community. In one way or another back here, everyone has a story about cotton. Even my pirate has stories about the field behind his house.
Once people were convinced I was deadly serious about growing a cotton plant, they sort of got on board with the idea. They were still reserved about the chances of my success since they were growers on a large scale. I think it was actually hard for them to focus on the possibility and potential of my small scale vision. But, they did get on board.
Christina is actually going to get me into a harvester. I've been warned of dirt, dust, and spiders. Does anyone have a hazmat suit I can borrow? Shout out to our two chiefs -Fire and Police - both men named Jones, no relation. The Jean and Ladeen twins will help me gather up good dirt from a field come planting time, and Farmer Danny (you know who you are) promised me a cotton stalk. What I actually got was a yanked up entire plant thanks to a midnight run on a field somewhere. He's going to show me how to harvest and store the seeds. Later, there will be planting and cultivation lessons. Bless his heart. Online reading will fill in the details. I plan to get the pirate into this, too. He has a good eye and I know he will pick out the best planting location. I hope it's out front. I would love sharing my growing adventures with my neighbors.
You know that old adage? Cotton is the fabric of our lives? Well, it's true and it does have its messy moments just like life. Life isn't perfect just as cotton's story isn't perfect but we've all benefited from it and the lessons they are able to teach us.
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