Thursday, December 29, 2005
MY DIRTY PAST
When I was a kid, we could take off for the beach and there would be nothing but tobacco, tobacco fields everywhere, with only slabs of forest to break them up. Everybody grew tobacco....and why not? There was big money to be made and plenty to go 'round for everyone.
In the summer, I would work several weeks in tobacco. When I was smaller I was a "Toter", which meant unloading the leaves from the wagon and toting them the "Handers", who sorted the leaves neatly and handed them on to the "Tyers", who tied the bunches of leaves onto big sticks. Then the big boys would climb high into the barn rafters and hang the heavy sticks to dry....rows and rows of them that filled the whole barn. Later on I graduated to being a Hander. But when you're 10 or 11 years old in the 1970's....10 bucks an hour is unbelievable amount of money. I could work for a couple of weeks and make enough money to buy my own shoes, Levis, Led Zeppelin t-shirts, school supplies, and still have enough left over for books, records and a haircut, all before school started! It took a load off my mother's shoulders, too.
Here's an old picture of some women workers. I assume they are Handers from the way they are picking up leaves. Notice the drying leaves hanging in the rafters above them.
It was the nastiest dirtiest job ever. Tobacco gum would stick all over your hands, get under your nails, and ruin your clothes. The smart girls protected their hair in kerchiefs, just like the women from 100 years ago. And the big fat nasty worms and spiders you had to deal with! And the heat and humidity! But then you got paid....and life was good again.
All that is a thing of the past. You still see tobacco fields on your way to the beach, but nothing to compare to back then. They invented machines to do most of the work, and once the farmers went in debt for the machines....everybody quit smoking. You've got to give NC a big round of applause for not only surviving the blow of losing their major cash crop, but for also continuing to basically thrive economically. Say what you will, we ain't freakin' dumb, Hoss!
Tune in tomorrow for Part 2, where I will reveal Something Spectacular. Well, its not really spectacular....but it never fails to freak out the younger crowd who can't believe such a state of being ever existed. Everybody always says "WHAAAA-AAAAATT?" But if you grew up in a Southern Tobacco State, you'll just roll your eyes and be like "SO?"
So come back tomorrow. Over and out.
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