Out of Pearidge

Authorization is granted for the use of short quotes for educational purposes as long as proper citations are used. A version of this story first appeared in The Huntsville Times, June 8, 1996, C2.

A Cotton-Picking Lesson

Drake Avenue started, in those days, at Triana. From Triana, for seven blocks on one side, there was the mill village. On the other side were fields. West of the village on both sides, save for a dozen homes and two stores were fields and woods along the remainder of the one-mile stretch.

Many of the fields were cotton. They turned snowy white in late summer just before we went back to school. However, most of us children did not see them as white, but as green - or more accurately, silver. The farmers paid $3 per hundred pounds for picking the cotton. Of course, one had to be fairly strong and agile to pick a hundred pounds in a day; but that was my stated goal.

At first I was determined. I would get to the field around 7:30 and pick at a steady pace. However, at the day's end, my total continually fell less than 70 lbs. Soon, a new routine developed. As the sun got hot, the bag's strap began to cut into my neck and someone would say, "Let's go swimming."

With a week of picking left, I had forsaken my goal. Then, Dad asked me about it. "I can't pick no hundred pounds," I told him dejectedly.

"Can't never could," he replied.

"You know I'm too little."

"I know no such thing. I was pickin at least that much 'fore I was your age and I was smaller than you. Course I had to do it or we won't have nothin to eat. 'Havin to' makes a difference. You have to want it badly enough, but you can do it."

Dad's words bolstered my determination. I had six more days. I hoped to show him that I wanted it badly enough. I wanted to be as good as he was at my age.

For the next five days, I got to the fields with the first of the pickers. I continued to pick when my friends left for the swimming hole. I ate a quick lunch and went back to pulling that tar-bottom bag down those long rows. As the sun set, I dragged the bag back to be weighed.

Across those five days, my pound totals actually decreased. The first day, I had over 60 lbs., the last just over 50. I had to admit failure. I would just rest and have fun my last day.

When I told Dad of my plans for the last day, he just shook his head.

"Ain't no way for me to do it," I said. "You sure you were my age?"

"I'll tell you what. You go out there tomorrow and pick all you can. When I get off at 4:30, I'll come and pick with you and I bet you, you make your hundred pounds"

Accepting Dad's challenge, I devoted another day to my quest. The anticipation of picking with him gave me encouragement; also, I started looking for him after lunch. It was almost 5:00 before he arrived.

"Let's weigh what you got so far." He said.

"You gonna put what you pick in my bag?"

"Heavens no! I'm gonna get my own bag."

"Cashing in?" the farmer asked.

"No," said Dad, "we just want to see where he stands."

"Fifty-nine pounds," the man said.

Forty one pounds to go in less than three hours after it'd taken me 11 hours to pick 59. Best we just forget it, I thought; but Dad was positive. He grabbed a bag and off we went. He picked two rows while I picked one; but I kept up with him.

It was dark when we came pulling those heavy bages to the waiting wagon. "Thought I's going to have to send out a search party for y'all. Let me see here, son," the man said, hanging my bundle on his scale. "Looks like a 100 pounds to me."

I had not heard of "social facilitation" then; but when the professor explained it to the class, I had a clear image of one evening in in that cotton field on Drake when I picked over 40 pounds in less than three hours. Daddy was right, you have to want it to do it; having someone to work with often provides that motivation.