A Cotton Pickin’ Story ©

Have any of you ever picked cotton or had a relative who has? I did. My father in law loved to tell me of how much he hated picking cotton as a young boy growing up in North Carolina. He vowed to have nothing to do with it when he grew up and so far as I know he religiously kept that vow!

Since we’re surrounded on three sides at our farm by cotton fields, which the local growers are in the midst of picking (I believe “Harvesting” would be a more appropriate contemporary term since no one does it by hand anymore), I decided to read John Grisham’s somewhat autobiographical novel , “A Painted House”. I’m a fan of several of his other, mostly law-centered novels. No mention of a lawyer anywhere in this one, though. I found it fascinating on so many levels perhaps because I could personally relate to the seven year old protagonist, Luke, who tells the story in the first person:

  • He was 7 in the 1952 setting; I was 9

  • He listened to St Louis baseball on the radio with his “Pappy”; I listened to the Phillies with my grandfather. Both on their back porches

  • He loved playing baseball in the front yard; I played Little League baseball

  • His uncle had a 1953 Buick; my dad had a 1952 Buick

  • His was an old farmhouse without indoor plumbing surrounded by cotton fields; our current house was built in the 30’s without indoor plumbing (But we have it now!)

  • I could go on and on with this list but you get the point and I have limited space

As I read the book last week, which I have on loan from the Pines Library (such an underused resource these days of instant internet everything), I was so intrigued with the contrast of picking cotton back in the fifties and earlier compared to now. I went out to the field just to the west of our farm to watch my neighbor and his partners harvesting hundreds of acres with three John Deere harvesting/baling machines (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBP-Gbb2QM0) in just a few hours compared to the back-breaking, months-long trials of poor cotton farmers in the early South. The new 550 HP+ machines harvest and bale six rows of cotton into bales weighing 3500-4000 Lb each at 5 MPH completing 10-11 acres per hour.

If seven year old Luke Chandler, who narrates the book, could see the machine I watched yesterday that my neighbor was using, he would have been dumbfounded. He thought the road grader smoothing the dirt road in front of his house was cool. Perhaps he might even consider following in his father and “Pappy’s” shoes as cotton farmers instead of wanting to escape as soon as he could. While I was watching I hand-picked a cotton sprig myself to use as a book marker for the rest of my read!

Grisham wrote “A Painted House” in 2001; it was his twelfth novel, and I personally believe his best (I was literally in tears as I finished the last two chapters). The character development is masterful. It’s been made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie; I can’t wait to watch it!

So here are the take aways today for seniors:

  • If you don’t have one, go get a library card; they’re FREE !

  • There’s no better way to spend a winter day than with a good book, especially in front of a fireplace

  • Doubly so if you can read it to your spouse!!

  • I can’t think of a better book to start with than “A Painted House”; then watch the movie.

Thanks for reading All About Seniors…..see you next week!

Bill Milby is a Director of Visiting Angels® of Central Georgia, a non-medical, living assistance service for seniors. If you have questions or comments about this column you can reach him at william.mercylink@gmail.com

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