Picking cotton is not your everyday type of work, nor is it the type of work that you would choose to do. As a family, back when I was growing up, it was a necessity. Although my dad made good money working on the railroad, our family grew exponentially, or so it seemed, we ended up with seven of us kids. We decided we would pick cotton by going out to the fields with a group of other cotton pickers. Pick cotton we did, and how. Between four of us we could pick a ton by noon, automatically like we were machines. I remember the only other people that could take us on were the Latinos who would pick two rows at a time. Mind you these are mile long rows and the temperature can get upwards of 110 degrees in the shade. We would pack our lunches overnight and head out every morning with a crew of some 20-30 other cotton pickers and leave our house around 3:00 a.m. We would arrive at the field around 5:00 am. and would work until 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. everyday during the summer, weekends, to include all holidays. I relished going to school because that was the only break I ever got. Now, to pick cotton you must have a cotton sack with a strap around your shoulder that is at least 20 feet long. Into it and in a bent over posture you pluck the cotton that has blossomed out, as many a each hand can carry, and toss it into the cotton sack.You have to wear good gloves, leather if you can afford it, so that the dried bristles off the plant do not cut your fingers and wrists. I still have the scars on my wrists from lousy gloves. Although this sounds like a "Grapes of Wrath" lament, it is not. It is a story of grit and determination for a poor family who had to supplement its income in order to put food on the table and new clothes on our backs, instead of hand-me-downs. It will forever be emblazoned in my brain all the money we would count on the kitchen table as a family prior to turning in at 7:00 p. m. to get our rest before the next marathon of work the next day. I remember it vividly because we learned the value of the dollar, but more importantly, it kept our family together and strong as one. Our love and faith in each other never faltered.
How to Pick Cotton from the Fields
Fix your paper sack lunch over night and put in the fridge for the next day where you will have to get up at 3:00 a.m. Have your cotton sack rolled up and ready, no holes, all patched up Have your shirt, pants, and straw hat ready to withstand the heat
Load up in the truck which will pick you up at a designated area. Be courteous to the other workers as it is quite too early for anyone to be up unless you have to work out in the fields. Keep track of all your equipment as it could get mixed up with someone else's.
Get to the field and listen to all directions provided by the leader, usually your truck driver who is in charge of your crew. If there are any special rules and regulations, please abide by them all. Begin your marathon of the day which is to stuff full your cotton sack with as much cotton so that you can weigh it when it is full. Repeat the process over and over. Try not to get dehydrated and stop to stretch your back periodically.
You should have been able to pick at least a ton that day in order to make a day. The rewards are all laid out on your kitchen table as you count your dollars as a family. Your bank account will also thank you so that you can pay your bills, buy food to put on the table, and buy your new clothes.
Items you will need
- A positive and can-do attitude that never falters
- A strong back
- A good set of leather gloves
- A twenty-thirty foot cotton sack
- A good straw hat to ward off the hot sun
- Be diligent in your cotton picking regardless of how arduous it can be as it will pay off. You can get used to seeing the dollars if you work at it. What is not very pleasant is to have to go hungry or to continue wearing hand-me-downs in all your clothing.
- Wear good leather gloves while you pick the cotton. The bristles on the dried cotton plants are as sharp as razor blades. Straighten up your body from time to time and stretch your back: you will last longer without as much pain, and to be able to return to work the next day.
- McKay Savage, billums, Ailleen's pics, Svadfari