Friday, November 13, 2009


Amazing pictures of cotton by Janie at Southern Lagniappe.

This is double-posted from LAWN TEA, but of all the subjects I've covered about the South, this one seems to belong HERE, as well.

One year ago today, I hesitatingly sent out my first post, into the ether of the Internet, with no expectations that I can think of. Each day’s little remembrances or anecdotes or recipes or family tales were just put OUT THERE, with no idea of how far-reaching this medium is. And each day, people have looked in---the names of cities have scrolled across the counter, with the familiarity of old friends and the exotic ping of new, exciting places. And several real friendships have come of this---I count my readers and followers and commenters and e-mail friends as a great blessing.And today is also Post Number Three Hundred.

So I pondered for a subject to befit my heritage and my raising and the home I lived in for so many years. And there’s no doubt, it has to be Cotton. And Janie's post this week on Southern Lagniappe, her wonderful photographs of the fields of home, so familiar and so far away, was the deciding factor---a sign, so to speak, when she offered any and all, to illustrate this story.

In the Delta where I’m from, you can turn in a complete circle, your eyes on the horizon, and you see trees. No matter what distance, from close, see-the-bark, count-the-leaves, to a dwindly wisp of greenish mist at ground level far, far in the distance---you see the woods. There’s something so comforting about that---even the placid hills and the far-reaching prairies, the majesty of mountains and waves bursting on rocky shorelines cannot match the secure feeling of being surrounded by a forest, somewhere. It’s like our own secret garden wall, immense and constant, and it is embedded in our history and our beings. And always, on the landscape---the cotton fields.

I loved looking out my front door in Mississippi---I love the process of it, from the primal scent of first turning, to the flying dust as the planters roll like growling beasts over the land, to the vista of the tiny "turtles" as the sun-seeking leaves peek out, glimpsing the sky for the first time. They have an odd way of coming up through that dense Mississippi gumbo, aiming for the sky, and the little periscope lifts up a half-dollar-sized solid flat lid of dirt; for a few days, each long row does, indeed, seem to have a horizon-reaching line of baby turtles, marching their way to the woods.Then there's the greening, as the fields take on a tinge, then definite delineations of those long, symmetrical rows, growing higher and higher, until the blooms unfurl purple---I think of them as "hollyhocks with jobs" in their purpose and their definite usefulness. And the dainty-fringed little bishop's-hat bolls, which grow, ripen, and then burst with their fluffy hatchlings. The long vistas of green change to brown, crisping stalks and thorny hawk-talon barbs, guarding their treasure like Sleeping Beauty's hedge.

The days of drag-a-sack for $4 a hunnerd are no more---the people have gone from the old silver-glazed cypress tenant houses which dot the land, and the battered old houses stand witness to another time, but certainly not a gentler one. Cotton was higher then, in stature, if not in value---head-high-to-a-hand was a common measure, as the crop sometimes topped six feet, and as the drying came, the brambly rows were all but impenetrable. But the workers persevered, making their way through the thorny forest day after day for scarcely the price of their grits and lard. They barely made a livin’ and it sure wasn’t living. And machines tend the crops now, from first turning to harvest.

The great beasts are unleashed once again, to blunder over the fields, trampling the scratchy stalks and sucking up the clouds of white into that immense cage, into huge round bundles like convoys of blue-tarped gypsy wagons encamped in the fields. Thence to the gins, which seed and comb and bale, and on goes the crop to whenever and wherever---for the most comfortable clothing there is.

The process of growing and harvesting and ginning and selling and brokering and spinning and weaving and dyeing and sewing---I've been in on quite a lot of the procedure; cotton kept our lights on, kept our fridge and freezers full, and pretty much tended to our welfare, as we tended the fields. Even the aftermaths---counting up those green tickets, with the almost-illegible scribing, adding the pounds and the amounts, calculating the wages and all the other usual paperwork---that old yellow formica kitchen table was often laden with the grimy, gin-grease tokens of the growing and the labor and the gain.

Oh, the prayers and the wishes for rain, or for the incessant rain to stop; for the mud to dry enough to get wheels in the field; for enough hours in the day to plant or tend or defoliate or pick---many a midnight "lunch" I've delivered to the sweaty, grime-covered or damp or shivering workers in the fields, out there with picker-beams lighting up the hazy, dust-billowed landscape like some great gathering scene in
E T.

Driving up to a "stoppin' place" with the old woody wagon's tailgate laden with all the hot stew and biscuits or bean soup and cornbread and big urns of coffee, or an afternoon's heat modified by the arrival of a trunkful of chilly watermelons, ready for plunging thirsty mouths and hot faces into, or a big dishpanful of "strawberry shortcake"---several angelfood cakes or just-cooled cake layers, torn into bits, tossed with fresh-cut, sugared strawberries, and a couple of pints of cream whipped into a gallon of snowy fluff, all folded together into a luscious redpinkwhite-striped confection---occasionally the guys would pass right by the stack of bowls and stand around the pan with their spoons, their mugs of strong black coffee one-fingered ready in the spare hand. They came to the meal, exhausted from their since-daylight labor, looking like a troop of just-emerged coal miners, their faces etched with grime and cotton-dust and wisps of stem and leaf---the only clean spots the goggle-covered area around their eyes and that telltale white circle of "farmer's halo" where their caps preserve the pale skin from the hot Delta sun.

Cotton has been a mainstay of my family since I can't remember when. It's a magical, none-like-it plant---the green stems growing their tight green-fringed fists, known as "squares," which turn into flowers; the flowers drop, for the bolls to emerge, and then Summer's heat and rain call forth the growth and the splitting and the burst of down-soft fiber, older than memory and more comfortable to wear than the finest silk. The miracle of seed and growth are one of the great wonders of the world, and I'm especially thankful for those fat furry seeds which go into the dirt like dead stones, rise up with blooms sweet as roses, then butterfly-burst into the miracle that is Cotton.

Dyed-in-the-Cotton Delta girl, that's me.


  1. Thank you so much for your sweet comment....If you want to read more about the table and the mosaic I put on top it is on my blog dated May 21, 2009. The title is Paint project # 3...there are a lot more pictures of that project...if you have any more questions just let me know....
    Mo ;-)

  2. Your love of words shows! To be taken by the hand and lead through your thoughts is remarkable. I lived with a writer many years and recognize true love of writing and the need to put ones heart on paper when I see it!
    Hugs to you..and many blessings of the day...
    Thank you for your sweet visit to my blog...