Folks in the know around here tell me that close to a century ago cotton was grown in this area. That is hard to believe, knowing what I do about the cotton fields in Mississippi and southern Arkansas, but I am not one to argue with local historians.
My maternal step-grandfather raised a big farm here in the Ark-Mo area on a subsistence-type farm, and it is my understanding they did not grow cotton. It was a tough existence, but most folks nearly a century ago lived such a life save for a few families who had inherited some money. None of their acquaintances had inherited some money. Thus it was that my mother grew up unaccustomed to the creature comforts of life even from afar until she was in her later years.
When we were small and complained about wanting something which our parents either would not or could not afford, she shut us up in a hurry by relating harrowing tales from her childhood of hard work and depravation. I am convinced that woman could lay a guilt trip on Jesus.
Mama talked a lot about picking cotton, one of the few cash making projects the family was involved in. Can you imagine a large family packing up each fall and traveling for many miles in an old farm wagon in order to camp out, cook over an open fire and sleep on the ground just to be able to work like dogs for two or three weeks? And they looked forward to it, Mama said, because most of the time several neighbors traveled along with them. The trip was greatly anticipated and planned with the same enthusiasm as I feel when booking a trip to Europe.
Cooking for such large groups of people in such primitive conditions must have proved challenging to the woman. Mama said that when it rained they camped under a bridge, should they be lucky enough to find one. One such day when it had rained a whole lot Good Mama (her mother) went up to a farm house, knocked on the door, and asked it they could come in and use the cook stove for an hour or so. Permission was given, if you can believe it, and they had a fine hot meal that rainy night.
Lots of times the kids found watermelons which had been overlooked in the fields adjacent to the cotton patches. After hiding the prize in weeds, the news of such a find was kept locked in the bosom of the immediate family for they didn't care a lot about sharing such a treat with the entire company of workers. After lunch they would slip away and retrieve their stashed loot, and by the simple means of dropping the melon on a rock they had a wonderful dessert. Mama said just thinking about the hidden treasure made the morning pass quickly.
When I got older the story sorta reminded me of Ruth and the gleaners in the Bible.