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Today is October 18, 2017

Outdoors

August and the passing of days

August and the passing of days

The old cotton house that called my name, reminded me of August and the passing of days, and allowed me to revisit a time more than 50 years back that shaped my being. Photo: Tony Kinton

The surprise happened just this morning. It should have been no surprise, and I suppose it wasn’t in the purest sense of that word, for I knew the structure was there. But the surprise occurred when, in subliminal tones, the old building virtually called my name. Stopped me in my tracks, it did. It was an old cotton house, weathered and crumbling and festooned with vines and saplings and disuse. I stood mesmerized, wondering how and why this aged structure had somehow captured me at such a moment.

The episode began while I was busy about what I have come to call my heart attack walk. Since that sobering event now one year past, I have become increasingly diligent about this basic exercise regimen. Always active, I was, prior to that unkind prodding, a dedicated jogger and practitioner of martial arts. I kept fit. But still the heart issue paid an unwelcomed visit.

No longer do I jog or practice martial arts. I’d guess a 5K run would consume 45 minutes today. My high kick, though still adequately efficacious, would more likely land on the kneecap rather than shoulder high on a six-foot opponent. So these days I walk. That is what I was doing, and it was not until I retired to my office and the miserable machine on which I type these words did the full impact of that serendipitous meeting sink in.  

Cotton houses were common things in my youth. A community of poor-dirt farmers, we all in the area grew some cotton; consequently, cotton houses were essential. At least one to every farm, additional shacks were required if fields were separated by more than a few hundred yards. They were the most basic of buildings, just a floor, walls, wide door and tin top. Within the confines of these, cotton was placed, emptied from long sacks and held there until a minimum of one bale was ready for transport. That bale in those days was something approaching 1,200 pounds, if memory serves me. While sitting and thinking in my office, the crevices of recall that become more wrinkled with living began a slow and deliberate release of remembering.

Picking cotton was a late- summer/early-autumn affair. It was also arduous. If we picked our own cotton, the pay we received came when that cotton was ginned and sold. But all boys (and some girls) my age and older also picked for others. It was a method of generating additional income. I well remember when we would hire out, sacks dragging dusty middles and gradually filling with that glorious, fluffy fiber. Pay for a first picking, when opened bolls were thick and generous, was 2 cents per pound. That’s $2 per 100 pounds! I never managed that magic mark in any single day.

The price generally went up to an astronomical 3 cents a pound during second pickings, or scrapping as it was known, when bolls were scarce and scattered. A cotton shirt is more fully appreciated after one experiences a day in the field acquiring raw materials that make up said shirt.    

That old cotton house was bringing to life an overflow of memories, and it suddenly dawned on me that those memories were pleasant. They were not so much of sore knees and tired backs and sun-scorched arms as they were of family and laughter and companionship, and a sense of accomplishment and the enjoyment of full contentment. Of course, we younger ones were not burdened with the reality of paying bills and securing provisions. The tasks at hand were simple and clearly laid out, so we went about the business of doing what we must do and finding great pleasure in that doing.

And since cotton picking was in late summer and early fall and all males involved were squirrel hunters, we talked and planned and daydreamed of a cool morning soon to come when we would be in the woods—perhaps just friends, perhaps fathers and sons. We would be squirrel hunting then, not picking cotton. But those red, paper-hulled shells used on that hunt would have been purchased by and as a direct result of that cotton picking.

Then another memory surfaced, this probably the best of them all. It was that memory of us crawling onto a freshly-picked and loaded bale of cotton on the back of a wagon or battered pickup with wooden side frames for a ride to the cotton house or gin. No softer and more comfortable platform exists, and nothing in this cluttered world of modernity smells as soothing and inviting as a load of sun-warmed cotton that moments before was growing on a stalk in those ragged and now-ancient fields. This one reward was worth a great deal more than the labor that brought about its nurturing elements.

I think I shall visit that old cotton house again soon. The walk, and the memories, will do well for my heart.

Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. His newest book is “Rambling Through Pleasant Memories.” Order from Amazon.com or Kinton’s website: www.tonykinton.com.

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