Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Chopping cotton

Years ago, I learned how to chop cotton. The first step is getting a hoe that works. Those sissy little hoes they have in most hardware stores are more for looks than utility. You have to get a substantial, well balanced and sharp hoe. Have you ever sharpened a hoe? I have many times. Next, you have to learn to tell the difference between the cotton plants and the weeds. The idea of chopping cotton is to remove the weeds, not the cotton. You might think this is easy, but do you know what a baby cotton plant looks like? Neither did I at first. Weeding without know which are the weeds and which are the cotton plants is a disaster. Then, despite all your equipment and all your newly acquired horticultural knowledge, you have to get busy and start hoeing.

Do you have any idea how long one row of cotton can be? Have you ever stood in the middle of cotton field that covered a quarter section? Perhaps mentioning that a quarter section is 1/2 mile on a side helps? Anyway, standing there, at the beginning of your quarter section, you can almost, I say almost, see the other end of the row. Oh, did I mention that they grow cotton in the Gila and Salt River valleys in the summer? Maybe that doesn't mean anything to you, but it means that the temperature at 6:00 am is 95 degrees. OK, get the picture. You have your really good hoe. You have learned the difference between cotton plants and weeds. You are up at 4:00 am to get to the cotton field. You are standing at the head of a row of cotton a half a mile long and there are hundreds of rows to chop and it is almost 100 degrees. Oh, I almost forgot, although you are there to "chop cotton" you are really there to remove the weeds, not chop the cotton. Get the picture?

Now. Start chopping. Hmm. I forgot one more thing. Hopefully, they watered the field a few days before you start or your lovely hoe will most just bounce off of the ground. But, if they watered the field only a few days before, you are now bogged down in mud above your ankles. In any event, you immediately find out that the humidity in a cotton field is way higher than it is in surrounding desert.

If you got this far and you read my blog posts, you are ready for me to tie this into genealogy. Here are the lessons to be learned from chopping cotton that apply to life, genealogy and your future happiness:

1. Work is hard. Hard work is really hard. Chopping cotton is not as hard as laying concrete but it ranks up there with jack hammering and digging ditches by hand.
2. Once you have done something really hard, nothing else seems quite so hard. Think about chopping two or four rows at a time. Sometimes we took four rows each.
3. I didn't make this up. I really did chop cotton and long enough to more than learn how to do it.
4. Genealogy is hard work. It is harder than chopping cotton. It is harder than laying concrete. It is harder that jackhammering out a driveway. Anyone who tries to tell you differently is lying.
5. It takes a while to learn how to chop cotton. It is not fun. It is not easy. It may be spiritually fulfilling but I doubt it.
6. Genealogy takes a lot longer to learn than chopping cotton. Sometimes genealogy is fun, but most of the time it is not. Most of the time it is spiritually fulfilling and it is a lot more spiritually fulfilling than chopping cotton.
7. Both chopping cotton and doing genealogy are useful, productive, and helpful to mankind type activities.
8. I would rather do genealogy than chop cotton.
9. You will not see ads on TV telling you how easy and fun it is to chop cotton.


  1. I am laughing right out loud and loving every word! Number 9 simply made my day!!!

  2. When my daughter was 15 she got a job at McDonalds. After one week she came home and stated "Do you know what I learned working at McDonalds?'

    What? asked I. "I am not going to spend the rest of my life doing that..."

    It wasn't chopping cotton, but she learned an excellent lesson.

  3. You have outdone yourself! I want to show this to some of my clients.

  4. I spent part of the summer after my high school junior year chopping cotton with my grandfather in central Texas. It was 40 years ago and I remember it clearly to this day, including the rabbit families whose home lives I disrupted. This is a very good description of the cotton chopping assignment. It was late July and early August, and we worked from 7am to 11am, broke for lunch, nap and some shade, and then resumed for another 4 hours at 3 or 4 pm.

  5. My dad put me in cotton fields to chop cotton when I was ten years old. It didn't take me long to decide I didn't want to be a farmer.

  6. They didn't water the cotton fields when I chopped cotton, they cultivated (plowed) the fields and it was easier to chop. Yes, you did cut some of the cotton plant if there were two many together you had to thin them out. Of course that was about 60 years ago.

  7. It still doesn't tell you much about chopping cotton, other than you need a good how, and that it's really hard work. Fun to read though.

  8. When I was a young girl my grandmother talked to me many times about how she had to chop cotton when she was a child in Georgia. She was about 12 at the cotton chopping time and about 60 when she was telling me the stories. Perhaps I'm being overly generous in calling them stories. About all she really said was how much she hated chopping cotton.

  9. I am a native of the South Carolinian Low Country. I picked and chopped cotton {as well as cropped and strung tobacco}, thoughout my youth. This was my summer and afterschool job, you could say. This was hard, hard backbreaking work. I must say though, that doing these jobs, contributed to instilling within me a lifelong discipline.

  10. This was my summer in the early 70's

    Outside of Delano to Pond to McFarland to Wasco

    Central Valley, California

    Many is the time I got to the end of the row with 5 pounds or so of mud on each shoe.

    I kept slipping with the file and there was one spot on my thumb I kept slicing with a near razor sharp hoe. It never healed that summer.

    Nowadays there is much less cotton. And what there is is shorter. I'm over 6ft and back then not much less. By late summer the plants were literally like tall corn, way over my head.

    And the humidity. I felt that same humidity some years latter living and working in Alabama and Mississippi during the summer time.

    The joy of genealogy in those days, FWIW, was going around and gathering what records I could. Salt Lake City. Chicago, LA,
    San Diego. Hours at the books, or at the microfiche if lucky.

  11. I recently found my great grandpa's odd looking hoe in an old barn behind the 1920's 2 story home they used to live in. I was curious to know what exactly is was used for in his day. I thought man they sure did make stuff heavy back then, and whats the deal with this axe like edge on the blade. I thought about this for a couple of weeks while I was staying at the old place. With no Internet access, even the TV seems boring with all the action going on outside. Swinging on the front porch watching the cattle's daily grazing pattern with the occasional wild hog crossing the pasture. I wish I could go back in time and tell my great grandparents how hard they truly worked but even still I have no idea how hard it must have been. This transpired in my thoughts for the 2 weeks I was there tilling up only 1/8th of the size of the garden I recall them having in my childhood. With a gas tiller and only a cheap hoe, cultivator % spade shovel. I planted 2 rows of corn 125ft long, & 100ft of purple hulls that I had a challenging time locating seed for. Half completed... so 1/16th of the size is actually planted. The rusty TX Farm Truck license place from 39 used as a fastener to hold the barn together... maybe DMV will tell me who owned it after I wrote my first letter by hand in 28 or more years. This place looked like a gold course with manicured flower beds not a single weed in the gardens and perfect edges on the borders. He must have spent 12 hours a day 6 days a week to achieve that result. Not much to show for my efforts, wasted time and bad choices has given me the eerie gut feeling that I'm going to find out how hard it really was. With almost no social security earned, no healthcare for myself or later, no retirement plan or even savings... I just have that intuition that life is ramping up to drag my through the peak of a hard lesson that punishes more the longer you delay its course. But I know one thing that's for sure, I can always pick that hoe up and an scrounge up some corn an okra seed an attempt to feed myself off this land the way they once did. Finding the blacksmith tongs in the sand in the barn and the old anvil covered with dirt in a ditch among other things. The handmade horseshoes that predated my great grandparents even living at the place. It's pretty damn cool, lots of people want "new" stuff you know... Not me, I like the "OLD". I enjoyed your post, only confirming what I thought about their hard work. I should go to work immediately anywhere an face the grindstone, but I'd much rather talk to my aging family hearing the stories of what went on at our homestead while I still have the chance for them to tell them to me.