My friend, Jean, asked me about how the baskets were used. I e-mailed my cousin, Lisa, who know everything there is to know about anything that happens on a farm. She’s just amazing! She raises these teeny, tiny little horses now. So cute. Anyway, she said this,”the baskets were used to stack tobacco on. The farmer carried the sticks of tobacco to the market. When they got there, they took the bundles of tobacco off the sticks and stacked it on the baskets to be sold. The baskets actually belonged to the tobacco market.” Just thinking of this has brought back so many fond memories.
I used to spend a good bit of time every summer in NC. I had several uncles who were tobacco farmers. I can remember getting up early with my Uncle Arthur Lee. He would let me go with him to pick up the “hands” which is what they called the workers. He would buy me a pack of crackers and a coke at the store for breakfast. I always thought I was getting away with something when I had that! 🙂 All the hands would get into the back of his pick-up truck and off we would go to the fields. Now, my Uncle Arthur Lee was larger than life in my eyes. I adored him. He would “give me a job to do”…which I am sure of now , amounted to keeping me out of the way of those doing the real work. But, he made me feel like it was a very necessary task. He even paid me. We would take a break around 10:00 or so, and go back to the same store for another coke (every soft drink was a coke) and pack of crackers. Back to the fields to work till lunch. Then, we would take all the hands somewhere for lunch and me and Uncle Arthur would go home to a dinner fit for this hard working team. It was always amazing the amount of food that was prepared for lunch every day. And always these huge biscuits. The cook was either my Aunt Marie of my Granny Merritt who lived next door. Oh, the amount of food my Uncle Arthur and his son Harry could put away. And the tea… they always had the biggest glasses I had ever seen. And they would have them filled 2 or 3 times. After lunch, they maybe would talk for a few minutes…then it was time to go gather the hands and get back to work. It was about this time that I looked for an excuse to stay at the house. Sometimes it worked, sometimes, it didn’t. I can remember my Uncle saying to me one day as I was trying to escape the work of the afternoon, “You said you were going to work, and that’s what you are going to do. You have a job to do and you are going to do it. Don’t be telling me you want to work and then quit when it gets too hot. Use those lily white hands to do something.” You better believe I marched my little self to the truck with nary another word. And I did my work…without complaining. He always tried to sound tough and gruff about things like that…but he was just an old softie! I sure do miss him. He died from lung cancer years ago, but I hold him near and dear to me in my heart still.
I remember little bits of the tobacco work. I know the workers sat on the back of combines as they travelled down the rows of tobacco. They would pick some of the leaves and lay them across the sticks…first one way and then another. It was tied on with string, I think. So that there would be tobacco hanging down on both sides of the stick. These were then hung in the barns to cure. They had heaters in there and we would have to go check the barns several times a day to be sure all was well. I can still remember the smell when you would open the doors to the barn where it was curing.
My Mom said that when she was a little girl, she and her brother and sisters would take turns staying in the barns at night with their daddy. I think they had fires then. She said that is one of one of her dearest memories. They would pick ears of corn from the fields as they went and roast them in the fire.
These are people who are so dear to me. Uncle Arthur Lee lives with Jesus, and Aunt Marie, his wife, is the one who helped us so much with Ian. She is an angel in my eyes. My Aunt Evelyn, who I have always though was so beautiful, is such a sweetheart, and my Uncle Charles is just a crazy old man!:) He’s always cutting up, and playing, but he is a dear soul. They have 2 kids, Chris and Lisa. Lisa, is the go to girl for info on anything farm related. And Chris still does some farming, I think. As a matter of fact…The folks at GAP came down to Chris’s fields several years ago to film one of their national TV commercials. My Uncle Jefferson was a chicken farmer…he had about a million or so. And his wife Aunt Della Mae…such a sweet lady. There was also Uncle Elwood who ran a little country store…the kind where the hands would go to eat b’fast or lunch, and his wife Betty. Oh and lots of other cousins:Kaye, Tony, Jeannie, Kim, Debbie, Cheryl Lynn, Woody. And now they all have kids of their own.
Family…what an all encompassing word. How blessed I have been to have only sweet memories when I hear that word and when I think back on my childhood. I realize how fortunate I have been. I can see the wisdom of my parents encouraging my sister and I to spend part of our summers there, in another world from the one we lived in in Alabama. Learning a different way of life, not better or worse…just different. I believe that all the things we experience in our lives help to mold us into who we are today. And the lessons we learn from people along the way go into our storehouse of memories to remind us of who and what we should strive for in this world.
“Thanks for the lessons…and the memories”