Posted: 9/5/18 at 8:00am. Post by R. G. Rowland
The summer of 1963 was unusually hot and extremely dry in Southside Virginia.
There was such a shortage of hay, the Department of Highways allowed farmers to cut the grass along the roadways in some areas. Our neighbor, Fulton Oakes, mowed the grass along the road that ran through his farm—what is now Rockford School Road—and along Highway 40. Mr. Nat Watlington baled it. Can you imagine such a thing happening now?
We mowed a field of rag weeds. It was my first experience at mowing hay. Daddy had a Super A Farmall Tractor with a belly mower, and he had me to stand on the hitch and look over his shoulder while he showed me how to mow. I was 14 years old, sitting above a sickle mower, and driving a tractor over a field of rag weeds. Today, OSHA, the USDA, the FBI, the Department of Social Services, and the CIA would take me to a foster home and put my daddy in jail.
The spring branch where Uncle Herman Rowland’s cows drank dried up, and we went down to the Stinking River, cut the barb wire, put in a gap, and made a new fence out into the water so the cows could drink. Uncle Herman cut a small cedar tree, cut off the limbs, sharpened the end of it, and drove it in the creek bed with a sledge hammer, so we’d have a post to hold the wire. We were able to attach the wire to trees along the creek without having to use another post. Unless you’ve tried to dig a post hole in dry ground, you probably don’t appreciate the previous sentence. But, I digress.
Uncle Arnold Crawley had a field of tobacco on Mr. Ollie Owens farm that everyone said was one of the worst looking pieces of tobacco in the area. It was in the field across from Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Route 40.
By late August the tobacco plants were about knee high, the bottom third of the plant was yellow, and the field was full of blooms. Some suggested to Uncle Arnold that the best thing he could do would be to put the disk in it and be rid of it.
Papa told him to break the tops out and wait to see what happened. We were sitting under the oak trees on the rock wall when Papa delivered his opinion. It was not what I wanted to hear. I had no interest in going down to Mr. Ollie’s farm in the heat and drought and helping “top” that field of tobacco. As usual, Papa’s opinion won out.
So we went down to the field, got out the mineral oil cans, and down the rows we went. Uncle Arnold and daddy broke out the tops, Leroy Chattin and I came along behind and made that squirt of oil on the plant to hold down the suckers.
When your livelihood depended on the “golden weed,” this was serious stuff.
It took us most of two afternoons to get the job done, but done it was. Uncle Arnold’s tobacco field didn’t look much better; it was just flowerless.
“Wait and see what happens,” Papa had said. I couldn’t see much need of waiting. I figured that was one field of tobacco we wouldn’t have to harvest. At fourteen I wasn’t so much worried about how to make a living as I was about getting out of work.
And then the rains came. Sometime along about the first of September, the clouds rolled in and brought the refreshing rains. Unless you’ve experienced a severe drought while living on a farm, you can’t imagine the feeling of seeing the rains come down on parched dry fields.
The brown pastures began to turn green. Papa’s old hogs rooted out new mudholes. And the spring branches began to run again.
That field of tobacco on Mr. Ollie Owen’s farm, right across from Mt. Zion Baptist Church, began to grow. Because daddy and Uncle Arnold had “topped” it low, the leaves rolled over, green and heavy looking. The bottom of the plants, which had been so yellow, turned green again, and those little leaves in the top of the plant began to develop.
Uncle Arnold got his crop in just before the first frost. The leaves cured golden, the bundles that were tied were extra heavy. Papa said it was because the plant had developed a root system in the dry weather looking for water, and when the water came, the plant developed into heavy leaves.
Whatever the reason, it turned out to be a good crop. Papa always said a dry June and wet July made for a good crop of tobacco. In this case, it was a dry May, June, July, and August and a wet September, but when one’s livelihood depended on it, it only mattered that the rains came just in time.
“The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and late rains. You also must be patient.” (James 5:7-8)
Being patient is hard for most of us, but sometimes life forces us to be patient.
“You also must be patient.”
We don’t know how the story ends. “Be patient, therefore, until the coming of the Lord.”