Autumn causes me to revisit my memories of growing up on a tobacco farm more than any other season of the year. More than early springtime when seeds were sown in a “plant bed” and then covered with a big white sheet providing nurturing shelter for strong, healthy plant development, and more than the early summer, when those plants were transplanted into fields of uniform rows. Even more than the late summer, which you would think would provide the most prolific memories because that was when the bulk of the work was performed in bringing in the majority of the harvest.
But, no, it was the fall that carved the shape of a tobacco leaf into my soul.
During the fall, the last of the “pullings” would take place, meaning what leaves were remaining on the stalk were harvested and placed in the barns for curing.
People ask me now, why when they see a field of tobacco, does it look like the leaves have been stripped from the plant, bottom-sides upward? The answer is, because they were. The sun ripens the lower leaves first, therefore they are harvested first. The top leaves ripen last; hence they are harvested last, during the season of harvest. Thinking on it, it does seem odd those leaves closest to the sun would not be subject to the intensity of its rays more so than the bottom ones, but that’s just how GOD set it up! So the next time you pass by a tobacco farm and you see Q-tip-looking stalks standing erect in the fields, with a few leaves still glued to their tops, you will understand how that came to be and that it is in the final stage of being harvested.
So the months of September and October were busy with the last of the duties required in wrapping up another growing season.
School would have started for me, so the work that had to be done would take place before the first bell rang in the morning or after the last bell rang in the afternoon. The chore of “taking down a barn of tobacco” was the most involved. I would get up really early with my daddy and maybe one other helper and we would drive to the barn with the mist of morning still hanging on for dear life. Everything was cold (or cool) and wet (or moist). We would arrange ourselves on the poles within the barn and pass the sticks full of the golden cured leaves with the light brown edges, one to the other until they were all layered like a six-layer yellow cake with milk chocolate icing on the back of the truck or the trailer.
One of the kindest old gentlemen who helped us through the years was named Solomon. He was a funny man and wore shoes with the toes cut out because he said his feet were always “talking.” Everyone agreed with him and we would fight over who had to stand beneath him in the barn with our noses at “sniffing” level of his “talking” feet. But he was the bravest of men, too, for he had no fear of the heights required to climb to the very top of the barn. And like his Old Testament namesake, he was wise, and we always trusted him to be attentive, alert and aware of his surroundings and to whom he was passing to. The sticks of cured tobacco weighed alot less coming down than the green tobacco did being passed to the top, but it was still a precarious, awkward setting to handle it all without harm coming to anyone.
In addition to Solomon’s “talking” shoes, the smell of the cured tobacco was intense because of the aroma of the fuel used during its drying time. A smell, I can’t describe other than what you would smell in the parking lot of a truck stop, next to the tobacco shop of the farmer’s market you were visiting. But even that does not come close.
I remember on the mornings when I didn’t have time to return home for a shower, I would go to school with bits of tobacco floating in my hair. I remember, a particular morning when I was running late, and I had to go to the principal’s office for a pass, and as I was signing the excuse form, a piece of tobacco floated down to the paper.
But it wasn’t embarrassing.
It represented hard work and determination. It represented everything my family stood for and everything we worked so hard to attain.
It represented fall and harvest and crisp mornings and the smell of Solomon’s feet before breakfast.
Donna Clements is a professional writer and motivator. You may reach Donna by phoning 252-326-9194 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.