Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Let's Talk About Cotton

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.

11 comments:

  1. Love reading your blog. Cotton is not as common as it once was around here, but as you well know, it’s still grown. The kids always loved packing the cotton in the trailers. They had a ball playing in that cotton. Their own private bouncy house. When they got tired, it was definitely packed down. They don’t trailer the cotton anymore. Too bad all these kids around here can’t experience that. You bring all this and more back to life for me, thanks Annie

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    1. Very much my pleasure, Jane. It's been exciting and eye-opening for me.

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  2. I have always been interested in cotton, and took a photo of the packed truck on the highway going through the Cheese town, from Stan State, one fall. I can't remember the entire story, not even most, but there was a lady in the Central Valley that grew cotton and had a devil of a time selling it. The growers were upset with her. All I remember of that story, which came out about ten years ago, was the name Fox. That's all. I think it would be interesting for you to find her. I think she wanted to make clothes. In any event, good luck with the new new project. You've got the weather for it, and the motivation, and the friends who will help. Kudos, Anne. :)

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    1. Thanks, B! And I'll look her up. 💕

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  3. So how big will your patch be? And then what will you do with it, beside sharing? You will for sure be a unique and talked about woman! Send me some when it comes up!! But surely you plant it now and it comes up in the spring? Wait till I tell Phil you're growing cotton!

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    1. Hi Ginny. Planting is in the spring. Farmers are prepping now for harvest. Not sure how big my patch will be. Size will pretty much control by how large the sunniest part of our yard is. We have lots of big trees so space and location will be a challenge.

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  4. Looking forward to seeing the results Mom!

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  5. I love the cotton boles and have one plant (stem, or whatever it is called ... on my India Hicks table, as decor. And, want to invest in more around my home. I love them. This was a wonderful article! Please keep us updated on your cotton harvest!

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    1. I will, for sure. The next cotton post will no doubt be a detailed story about harvesting seed and later its planting.

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  6. Beautiful Annie and brings back lots of memories for me... I too have a long history with cotton. My mother has cotton pods as part of her decor, still with their treasures tucked inside... love that you are enjoying this connection with your community and its history in this way!

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  7. Oh I look forward to hearing more about this. I love cotton. I hope your crop will be really successful!

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Eulogy for Kate Tallcott

Thirty-two years I knew you, Kate.  You were one of the best people I ever met. I never heard you say a bad word about anyone.  Knowing you ...