Monday, January 19, 2009

Cotton By The Stalk

I'm Back!!!!
Been a while since my last entry but here I am with another one.
This story is true with some added embelishments. Writers priviledge.......
Hope that you enjoy this entry......

Cotton By The Stalk
During your youth were you in contact with people from other parts of the country?
This may sound like a stupid question but in the late 1950’s growing up in the hills of southern middle Tennessee it was very probable that you would not have a lot of contact with other “cultures.” We had to face it – our area was not a favorite tourist destination.
Even thought I felt that I was well read and fairly knowledgeable of the world around me I now realize that I was probably just slightly more aware of my surroundings than the proverbial guy who “fell off the turnip truck” that was passing through.
One day I was in our cotton patch near the county road that bordered our farm. The cotton was getting white and I was checking to see if most of the bowls were opening which would indicate when we could soon start picking the cotton. The one-acre patch I was standing in was shared property with my older brother. Dad gave us this acre and the profits (or losses) were ours. Capitalism was taught early in the hills of Tennessee.
Anyway, as I was standing near the road in the cotton patch – a shiny new car stopped at the side of the road close to where I was standing. A young couple who were probably on their way to “LA” occupied the car. For outsiders “LA” was the local name for the “Lower Alabama” gulf coast or as others refer to this area as the “Redneck Rivera.”
On getting out of the car they just stood and looked over the cotton patch like they had never in their lives seen anything like it. They finally said that they were amazed at how the cotton just hung out of the bowls ready for picking. I guess that I was amazed by their actions. It was obvious that they were not from “around here” and I moved to where I could get a glimpse of their car plate and I saw that they were from Illinois.
They asked me a lot of questions about cotton - how it grows and how does a bowl become the fluffy cotton that was hanging on the burrs? Questions that no one in their right mind would ever even consider, was my opinion. Sort of like the old “which came first – the chicken or the egg” question.
After asking my permission to enter the patch they eagerly ran around touching the locks of cotton hanging down and were really looking pretty silly frolicking around the cotton patch. Looked a lot like the slow motion runs the lovers always take through the meadow in “B” grade movies. I was beginning to think that maybe they had stopped by the local “drug store” but you could not smell anything on their breath. The “Drug Store” was the name the local bootlegger used for his nearby establishment. I guess the name of the establishment reflected the purely medicinal purposes for the “hair of the beast” here in the Bible belt.
Finally after they had obviously used up all their pent up energy the man ran up to me and breathlessly asked me what I would charge them for some cotton? Another question that normally would never be asked. How could I answer a question like that? Could he not see that this was a cotton patch and not a retail outlet? While I was pondering the answer I would deliver to them – the man suddenly pulled out his wallet and took out a five-dollar bill. He waved the portrait of Abe Lincoln in front of me and asked me if I would sell him a stalk of cotton for five dollars? Since one of my dreams in life was to amass a large collection of “portraits of deceased presidents” – he had my full attention. I had trouble believing what he was saying but I nodded my head in agreement. I guess that I was too shocked to verbally respond. Heck, I did farm work for neighboring farmers for three dollars a day. It was obvious that this guy was not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
Well, I reached down and pulled up a stalk of cotton with about five open bowls plus leaves and a couple of unopened bowls. He gave me the five-dollar bill and happily placed the cotton stalk in the trunk of his shiny new car.
As they drove off I was left with my thoughts of past cultural history. My immigrant family had not yet arrived in this country during the Civil War but I was seriously questioning how in the world the North won that war if these people were a reflection of their population? On the other side, the South must have been in a pretty sad state to loose to people of this obvious mental deficit? I guess these were thoughts for professors who sit around tables smoking pipes and wearing suits?
Then my mind switched gears and I thought about the sale of one stalk of cotton for five dollars. As a young capitalist I began to calculate what our cotton patch was worth at a per stalk price of five dollars. I did not count the stalks but there could easily have been enough to make our little patch worth at least fifty thousand dollars. If we got Dad to put our whole 200-acre farm in cotton – truck the stalks up North - sell the stalks for five dollars each - we would be filthy rich. Wow, then we would be able to get on of those TV sets for our house! What a brilliant idea! If we would have had the Internet back then I would probably have made an infomercial and asked Kevin Trudeau to narrate it. That guy must really be super smart – he seems to be an authority on everything from hitting a golf ball to medical problems?
Sadly my brother cooled down my enthusiasm for the plan by telling me that everyone up North would not pay a price like that for our cotton. Try to convince a very young entrepreneur of that?
After a while I went back to thinking in more conventional terms about our cotton patch again. Like getting the cotton picked before bad weather and finding the time to do it after school.
We eventually made two bales of cotton, which gave us enough money to buy all our school clothes, get a TV set for our family, and have walking around money for the year.
But I never forgot the two folks passing through who made me ponder deeper thoughts regarding our nation’s history and even to think like a millionaire – if only for only a very short time.