I got cotton in the bottom land

It’s up and growin’ and I got a good stand

My good wife and them kids of mine

Gonna get new shoes, come Pickin’ Time

Get new shoes come Pickin’ time

Ev’ry night when I go to bed

I thank the Lord that my kids are fed

They live on beans eight days and nine

But I get ‘em fat come Pickin’ Time

Get ‘em fat come Pickin’ Time

My old wagon barely gets me to town

I patched the wheels and I watered ‘em down

Keep her in shape so she’ll be fine

To haul my cotton come Pickin’ Time

Johnny Cash

One thing I have learned in the few years that my daughter’s husband has farmed cotton, is that it’s just not cotton-picking time until it’s cotton-picking time.

The opened cotton bolls have to be just right when picked. While rainfall is important to the ripening of the crop, it isn’t as desirable during the picking season. If it does rain, the farmer has to wait until the fluffy white bolls dry out before harvesting.

I remember watching in awe as my son-in-law and his father put cotton seeds in their mouths to see if the cotton was ready after a rainfall. If the seed is mushy then it is not ready, but if it “pops” then it’s cotton-picking time.

The term, cotton-picking is used as an adjective around here. People might say, “Well it’s about cotton-picking time,” or “Keep your cotton-picking hands off my stuff.” It has also been used as a somewhat mild form of a swear word, such as in “cotton pick it!”

Besides creating a slang word, the toiling in the cotton fields also inspired a slew of songs. Several of these were written and sung by Johnny Cash who was raised alongside cotton fields not very far from here.

Things have changed a lot since Cash’s early days in the land of cotton. Then people, including my grandparents, worked from sunup to sundown picking the crop.

Today, one can buy a cotton-picking machine that can pick the cotton and spit out a module, all in one fell swoop. And besides that cotton pickers are equipped with air-conditioning and radios, as well as other amenities.

I don’t think my grandparents could have dreamed it.

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2 responses »

  1. artsmith7 says:

    Great write up !
    My parents were both from Miss. We were living in Memphis when I was in the 9th grade – and I made a bad grade that year and my Dad (very strict ) took me down to one of our relatives cotton farm – and I hand picked cotton for one month pulling a small 25 pound sack behind me down each row. I never made a bad grade again !

    • Sheila says:

      Fortunately I never had to pick cotton by hand, except for the occassional handfuls I offered my mother as she worked in the field some when I was a child. I mostly played in the dirt and had a great time. It was pretty tough work then in the hot Arkansas sun.

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