To continue with my farm stories, I’d like to tell you a little about what was taking place in the summer down on the farm.
We know now that tobacco products aren’t good for our health, but when I was coming up, the sale of tobacco put clothes on my back and food in my mouth. Tobacco, cotton, livestock and peaches were the farmer’s cash crops.
Mid to late summer was when the cropping or priming of tobacco was in full swing. We’d hire several of our neighbors to help gather and put in a barn of tobacco. A lot of the time labor was traded back and forth from family to family as it had been from years past. We’d have primers and sled drivers in the fields, handers and loopers at the barn. You’d a thought with all these folks that we owned a big old family farm.
It was hard and hot work but with people telling stories, singing and joking around we made it through. Sometimes I’d tell Dad that my back hurt and he would say “boy, you ain’t old enough to have a back.” We’d put in five or six barns a year of our own. It would take the better part of a day to put in a barn. When we would take a break we’d have salt and pepper shakers at the barn, and people would go to our garden and pull watermelons, cantaloupes or tomatoes to eat. After each barn was put in, it would take four or five days and nights to cure the tobacco. I’ve spent many a night lying on an old wooden bench keeping up with the temperature inside the barn.
Fall was my favorite time of the year. Most of the hard and hot work in the fields and pack shed of tying and grading tobacco was done. It was time to take it to the market to be sold. We’d load as much tobacco as we could on our flatbed truck, and when Dad got off of public work we’d head out to Dillon or Mullins, S.C. to sale at the market.
There were a couple tobacco markets in Ellerbe, but Granddad said there were too many pinhookers working these markets. Now what a pinhooker was in a tobacco market was, for a lack of a better word, a speculator. They would try their best to buy a farmer’s tobacco at a cheap price and then resale it for an easy profit. This wasn’t illegal, but most farmers frowned on pinhookers and thought they were as low as a blacksnake with a top hat on.
It was usually late when we pulled in the warehouse in S.C. We’d get the tobacco unloaded in baskets and weighed. Each basket weighed about 200 pounds. Then it was placed in long rows to be auctioned off the next day. After unloading the truck we’d walk down to an all night cafe and buy a whole sack of hotdogs, three for a dollar. After eating, it was back to the warehouse to sleep on the back of the truck or curl up on a tobacco canvass.
The next morning the warehouse would be filled with the smell of cured tobacco. The auction would start about mid-morning. Buyers and sellers would be walking up and down the long rows of tobacco. The sound of the auctioneer still lingers in my head. Who’ll give me 75, 75, dollar-dollar, dollar-quarter, dollar-half dollar-half going once, twice sold American. After the sale it was home to pay the bills and invite all the neighbors over to celebrate with a catfish stew.
I wouldn’t take anything for those years on the farm. A lot of the lessons I learned there won’t be taught at no school but were handed down from people who earned a living by the sweat of their brows and God’s green earth.
Next week: Christmas time’s a’ comin’.