TITLE: Taking Down and Booking 10/23/16
By Sherry Brock
SEND A PRIVATE COMMENT
SEND ARTICLE TO A FRIEND
Crisp fall air in Kentucky always brings to mind corn shocks and pumpkins, but for me, it's also a reminder of life on a tobacco farm.
Tobacco is still grown in Mercer County, but the small five or ten acre patches prevalent back in the sixties and seventies, when I was a kid, are almost non-existent today.
Back then most all farms had a patch of tobacco raised and harvested by family members. The norm was for the entire family to participate in “setting”, “cutting”, and “stripping” the crop before selling it, usually between late November and Christmas, at the local tobacco warehouse. Money from the crop usually supplemented farm income on dairy, cattle, or grain farms, but it also provided extra income for rural families with “city” jobs. In most cases the extra cash was used to buy Christmas presents, pay property taxes, or make farm payments.
Now, if your reading this and have no idea what setting, cutting, and stripping tobacco means, then you're either under the age of thirty, lived in the city all your life, or you just ain't from around here. Let me fill you in, but I'm not going to romanticize raising tobacco like a lot of those of my or my parents generation.
While I do look back on my days in tobacco fields fondly, I also acknowledge it's really hard work. Those who grew up with tobacco can probably relate to leg cramps from “pulling plants” all day (setting season), or the fear of chopping a body part instead of a tobacco stalk only to endure the heat and confinement of hanging tobacco on the top rail of a barn (cutting season). Maybe you remember the numbing monotony of “stripping” the leaves off thousands of tobacco stalks. Then, of course, there was always the weather factor, meaning fear of no rain, too much rain, hail storms, or high winds. Weather was the topic at many farm dinner tables from May to December.
In late fall and early winter my daddy was always looking for rain or snow to provide moisture to the tobacco hanging in the barns. The leaves on the stalks were plump and green going in, but turned brown and crisp when cured by the late summer and early fall air. To get the dried up leaves from the top of the barn to the stripping room without essentially turning them to dust took moisture from rain or snow.
On most rainy or snowy days after mid October, we'd hear Daddy say, “We gotta go take down kids...let's go book some tobacco.” Lots of days after school or on the weekends were spent “taking down” and “booking.”
My brothers and I would dress warm, put on our shoes or boots, and all of us, including Mom, would pile up in the truck and head for the barn. Usually one or two of my three brothers, would climb up into the barn, grab the sticks of tobacco and throw them down to Dad's waiting arms, where one of us would jerk the stick out, leaving Daddy with an armful of tobacco stalks draped with cured leaves. That's the “taking down” part. Daddy would take each armful, and, starting at the back of the wagon, he would layer or “book” the tobacco upward until it reached just the right height, and then start another row, continuing until the wagon was full. A full wagon usually meant we got to go home.
Taking down and booking tobacco was my least favorite part of the whole process, because it occurred in chilly moist weather, and, to this day, I detest being cold and wet. Setting and cutting happened during warm seasons of the year, while stripping tobacco took place in a barn room warmed by a wood or coal stove. I could handle the hard work, the dirt, and the gummy hands of the other seasons, but I absolutely dreaded taking down and booking in the cold.
Of course, that didn't really matter in the big scheme of things. I quickly found out whining, “I'm cold” would get me no where.
Daddy always came back with, “Get to workin' and you'll warm up soon enough.” Huffing and puffing would follow when he said that, but he was always right. Ten minutes in and we'd be shedding our coats or extra sweatshirts.
Growing up on a farm, especially one with a tobacco crop, was a lot of work for every member of the family, but the experiences taught me many life lessons, such as the value of hard work, and the satisfaction in a job well done. One of the most beneficial, though, was realizing persevering through adversity was possible by remaining focused on the task at hand. Concentrate, do your best, muscle through it, and good things will happen on the other side. It's a philosophy that serves one well in many a situation.
It's fun to think back to those fall and winter days and how they shaped me and my brothers. I may even get a little whimsical about it sometimes, but not to the point of wishing to go back. I doubt there will ever be a day in the future, “Let's go help somebody take down some tobacco,” will willingly come out of my mouth, especially on a cold snowy day.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.