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Cotton Harvest And ‘Winner’ Suckers

Marcia KiserWhen I look back on my childhood, it always seems that cotton was king of my memories. My family grew wheat, grain and cotton, but, for some reason, cotton holds the most memories for me. Grain harvest was always fun and if Mother or Daddy were driving a big truck, I’d be in the cab headed to the grain elevator. I was fascinated by the weighing-in, dumping and weighing-out process. I especially enjoyed pulling into the cool, dark elevator, watching the bed of the truck slowly lift and listening to the rustle of the seeds pouring out.

For me, though, cotton harvest holds most of my favorite memories. To be honest, I’m not sure if my two brothers would agree. I’m not even sure my folks would agree. Cotton harvest is in the fall, and I remember it as always being cold. It was dirty, tiring work, but for me, my memories are of a warm, golden time — of being with my family.

My folks allowed me to tromp cotton with my brothers.”

Growing up in a small town certainly had its advantages as well as its disadvantages. Tulia, Texas, was a thriving agricultural town during my childhood. My friends and I described it as the “golden age of agriculture.” Crops were good, rain came when it should and, for the most part, hailstorms were few. As the youngest child and only girl, I was the consummate tomboy. Whatever my brothers did, I had to do also. As I watched my brothers “tromp” cotton in an open air trailer, my heart’s desire was to be up there with them. One cold harvest day, my folks relented and agreed to allow me to tromp cotton with my brothers.

I was in that trailer like I’d been shot out of a gun. My brothers, being brothers, basically ignored me. And the truth be told, I didn’t last long — maybe one round. I found out being pelted by cotton bolls was not a lot of fun. And at 6 years old, I didn’t have the weight, or the strength, to tromp any cotton down. All I did was sink. As soon as I could, I cried “uncle” and asked to get out and return to the safety and security of the pickup.

While I licked my wounded pride and rubbed my bruises, the trailer quickly filled (it was a really good year), and now it was Mother’s turn. The heavy trailer was unhitched from the stripper, and Mother backed up so my Daddy and my brothers could hitch it to the pickup. And off we went, headed to the gin dragging the heavy trailer behind us.
I’d be occupied with my coloring book and crayons, or whatever I deemed that I “had” to have with me that day. Sometimes I’d sit in the seat, and sometimes I’d be in the floorboard. This was before seat belt laws, so I could roam wherever I wanted in the pickup as long as I didn’t distract Mother.

After weigh-in, we would wind our way through row after row of filled trailers to drop ours off. While I’m sure we never got to town at noon, it seems that Mother could always time getting a load to the gin just around lunch. Since she was too busy to cook and I was a little too young, after we dropped the trailer off, Mother headed to a local grocery store — the Circle R. She would buy barbeque beef sandwiches and cold Cokes for the family (and, boy, did they smell good on the way home!). Everyone got a Mars bar, but if I had been good — meaning I hadn’t pestered her to her wit’s end — she would buy me a “Winner” sucker.

Winner suckers came in cherry or grape. They were a hard candy and typically lasted the whole afternoon. The most important thing about the Winner sucker was slowly, slowly pulling back the wrapper. If I’d been very good — and was very lucky — there would be a small sticker declaring “WINNER” on the back. I could cash the sticker in for a free sucker the next day when we stopped to buy dinner. It might not seem as exciting as Willie Wonka’s Golden Ticket, but it was to me.

I can still remember the taste of grape (my favorite) on the back of my tongue 50 years later. But, more importantly, I remember the feeling I had of my family working together — working hard — to make cotton harvest a winner.

— Marcia Kiser, Lubbock, Texas
mek357@sbcglobal.net

Cotton Farming’s back page is devoted to telling unusual “farm tales” or timely stories  from across the Belt. Now it’s your turn. If you’ve got an interesting story to tell, send a short summary to  Carroll Smith at csmith@onegrower.com. We look forward to hearing from you.