Until this past weekend, picking cotton was just something that I had read about, saw in a movie, or listened to in a song.
It was with a discussion with a friend who grew up in the United States south that really put it into context for me.
We were talking about crappy jobs that we’ve had. Without a doubt, the worst job for me was picking cucumbers. It was done by hand in the heat of the summer. My parents had planted a quarter acre of them and we picked the patch every other night.
Now, cucumbers in the wild are certainly different from those tasty things that you get in jars. They’re covered with little black spikes and they hurt when you start picking them. Until your hands are completely covered with dirt that is. When completely cover, that sort of works like gloves. We picked for Bicks and the cucumbers were rated by size from 1-6. Ones were typically the gherkin-size (about the size of your little finger) and they paid the most. It’s just that it took so many to make any weight at all. On the other end of the scale, sixes are big, like gourds, and are typically chopped up to make relish. While they weigh more, they don’t pay all that much. We sort of determined that threes and fours were the sweet spot.
It was back breaking work because you were on your hands and knees crawling down a row picking them and putting them into a six quart basket. The only relief was taking the basket over and emptying them into a big bag for transit.
My friend claims that it’s nothing compared to picking cotton. It’s not something that grows here in Ontario that I know of. It’s a deep south product and until my discussion, my only experience in “picking cotton” is at the store picking out a summer shirt.
His description was of a similarly hot environment and equally or worse back breaking work. He picked cotton by hand and it sounded like painful work. He had to reach inside the plant which has raser sharp projection and pull out the cotton.
Even watching a Youtube video looks painful and unpleasant. I remember, with cucumbers, one of the painful moments was getting stuck under the fingernail. It’s a job reality here too.
I also learned that there are two concepts. One – you pick the actual cotton. Two – you pick the cotton boll and the cotton is extracted after the fact. There’s a distinction between cotton picking and cotton pulling. I did not know that.
Aw, the jobs of days gone by. There’s a modern approach.
But, back in our day, these were two backbreaking jobs.
How about you? Did you have a particularly tough job as a child that you could share with us?