Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Picking Tobacco

More than any thing else that happened to me in South Georgia as a child, my experiences picking tobacco makes me feel that no matter how citified I become, at heart I’ll always be a country boy. It is one of those bittersweet memories of childhood. At the time I hated it. It was hot and dirty work. But looking back, I see the work did build character (just like the adults always said it would).

Children living in the country always look forward to a special event; going to town. Going to town meant shopping, and eating out, and seeing sights. It was like a mini-vacation. One morning as we were hopping in the car for a trip to town, a neighbor’s farm truck rolled into the yard. In the back sat a number of people. I immediately had a bad feeling about the situation, and before I knew it, I was roped into picking tobacco. Yes, we were paid. By my youthful standards I was getting rich, but was it worth it? I wasn’t sure.

The tobacco plants were taller than me. I was intimidated. You harvest tobacco leaves by grasping the four or five lowest, most mature, leaves and ripping them down off the stalk. The plant stays intact and the upper leaves continue to mature for another one or two harvests later in the summer. You stuff the handful of harvested leaves under your arm and continue to the next, until you have a large bundle balanced on your hip. This bundle eventually is deposited onto a slow, tractor-drawn cart nearby and then you continue on your row. And so on, and so on, and so on. And then after that, so on again.

My brother and I were not very accomplished, and were soon outdistanced by all the other pickers, some of which were girls younger than us, but raised working the fields.

An interesting fact about the tobacco plant is that tar exudes from the leaves in tiny deposits. After working a bit, your hands, your arm holding the load of leaves, and that entire side of you body becomes brown and caked with tar. In the morning, the dew on the leaves is steeped with the tar and will make your eyes sting if it gets in them.

Eventually, the leaves make their way to the dryers, large trailers, in which the leaves hang and cure in dry blowing air.

No comments: