In 1958 we traveled to Arkansas. By we, I don’t mean a Basketball Team, but my family. It was dad, mom, me, my 3 sisters and 2 brothers. It was warm and we rode with the windows of our car rolled down. On that road trip I saw scenes and learned lessons about life I had never experienced before.
I was born in the Midwest, but my dad was born down south, in Mississippi. When he was a young boy his family moved to Arkansas. They were sharecroppers.
We rode down 2 lane roads, windows down because we had no air conditioning and it was hot. I saw cotton for the first time. Fields and fields and rows and rows of snowy white fluffy cotton blooming in the hot sunshine. There were black field hands picking with their white cotton sacks by their side and their heads wrapped up with white cloths. I will never forget that sight.
After the Civil War, cotton remained a key crop in the Southern economy. Across the South, sharecropping evolved, in which landless black and white farmers worked land owned by others in return for a share of the profits. Some farmers rented the land and bore the production costs themselves. This is what my dad’s family did. They left Mississippi when he was a young boy to become sharecroppers in Arkansas. Until mechanical cotton pickers were developed, cotton farmers needed additional labor to hand-pick cotton. Picking cotton was a source of income for families across the South. Rural and small town school systems had split vacations so children could work in the fields during “cotton-picking.” (Source, Wikipedia)
Dad told us about getting out of school to pick cotton. He liked getting out of school, but hated picking cotton. In fact, when he was 16, he quit school and headed north. He said he wasn’t going to pick cotton the rest of his life.
We stopped for a restroom break and to fill the car with gas. I was about 5 years old at the time and beginning to read. I noticed a sign that read “White’s Only” outside the restroom door. I asked my mother about it and she just mumbled some answer. I didn’t know what she said and was just as puzzled as ever as to what the sign meant.
It was hot that day and dad told us children to look for a sign that said “Cold Watermelon.” Soon we spotted one. Dad thumped several of the big green striped melons before choosing one. He put it in the car and then told us to look for some roadside tables. We didn’t go too far before we saw several white concrete tables and benches on the side of the road. Dad pulled over, unloaded the watermelon atop one of the tables and opened it with his pocket knife. It was a deep, dark red, spotted with jet black seeds. We each got a slice and began slurping away. It was a combination of cold, sweet, syrupy, deliciousness!
After traveling several more hours it was beginning to turn dusky, dark. Passing several dirt side roads, dad finally pulled the car down one and stopped at a gate. He got out of the car, opened the gate, pulled the car through, got back out, closed the gate, and then drove down a long, dirt road with cotton fields on each side. We had to roll our windows up or else we’d all choked to death on the dust!
He pulled up in front of a simple, small house, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. He honked the horn and 2 elderly people came out the front door with a small black and white dog on their heels. Dad got out and hugged them. I knew then it was his dad and mom, my grandparents. It was the first time I saw them. We children all scrambled out the car and hugs were exchanged all around. My dad’s older sister came out and joined in too.
We unpacked our belongings and soon we were seated at a big table loaded down with fried chicken, fresh purple hull peas, sliced ripe tomatoes, homemade cornbread, fried okra, and a big pink strawberry cake. Everything tasted so good.
After dinner we talked awhile and then it was time for bed. The iron bedsteads had big, fluffy, feather mattresses on them. Me and my sisters giggled as they enveloped us like a cloud. I looked out the window at the ink black sky. There was a big, round moon staring back at me. It seemed to say, life is good. I agreed and contentedly drifted off to sleep.
I was soon rudely awakened by a crowing rooster. I didn’t like him a bit! Opening my eyes, I saw my grandpa sitting in an upright chair in the living room putting on his shoes and socks. It was early, but he had to do his chores…feed the animals, milk the cows and hitch up the mules. That frame is forever etched into my mind.
Our visit to Arkansas is a memory I hold dear. It taught me about the South and the way things were in those days. It was a simpler time. Life was hard, but life always is. Times have changed…they always do. Don’t take anyone or anything for granted.
Don’t take God’s gift for granted either.
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18 KJV
I thank God for lessons learned in this life. I thank Him most of all for His great gift of Salvation through Jesus Christ.
God is good!