These pictures are of Cotton fields off of Hwy 82 in South Georgia in November. The cotton looks like a blanket of white snow. I had to stop the car when I saw the vast white landscape of the fields. My grandfather Smith had a cotton farm in Alabama and he worked his entire life in cotton mills as did several of my uncles and aunts. My parents worked in cotton mills when I was preschool age and elementary age. I remember my mother coming home with cotton stuck in her hair. It was hard work and she was tired and sleepy all the time. The BBC drama 'North and South' has played on Public Broadcasting several times and the drama series reminder me of what it was like for my parents and me living in drafted cotton mill houses with river rats running under my bed during the night. My young parents worked the second and third shifts which is evening and night shifts and I did not see them during the week, only on weekends. Our cotton mill houses were located close to the Chattahoochee River. I played on that river bank many times and have fond memories of playing with my friends who were as poor as me. We played baseball with sticks and plums and used old tree stumps as bases. It was fun improvising games off the river bank. I am the granddaughter and daughter of cotton mill workers. I am very proud of their perseverance and determination to work diligently so they could offer their children a better life.
The cotton mills are now closed and converted to stores, restaurants, college classrooms and museums but I will never forget the hard struggles of the families who worked those mills. I remember standing in line at the Community center to receive free polio shots. I never was vaccinated as a child because my parents could not afford it. As a result, I was often sick and had every childhood disease of the day. Due to poor health and illness, I was hospitalized several times and I wonder who footed the bills. I did not see a dentist until I was 13 years old and it was through the free services of the health department and all he could do was pulled my tooth because he was not allowed to fill teeth for cavities. My grandmother made my school clothes out of flour sacks and fabric that she purchased in a country grocery store. I'm not complaining because when I look back, I was active, happy, and had a creative imagination and the greatest treasure a child can have: Love and the majestic outdoors as my playground.
The image is from the BBC North and South mini series 2004. The swirling cotton in the air was typical of the cotton mills of the south where my young parents worked. I still have memories of cotton all over my mom's hair and clothes.
As I have remember my childhood, I still live in a free society with privileges and rights that gives me hope for our future that many in our world do not have so I want to honor and remember veterans for their bravery and sacrifices. Their stories need to be told. They must never be forgotten.
For Veterans Day a poem by John McCrea
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Following the death of his friend - Alexis Helmer - during the Second Battle of Ypres, Major John McCrae (a Canadian medical doctor from Guelph, Ontario) wrote "In Flanders Fields."
McCrae's poem was published in the British magazine, Punch, in December of 1915. It was soon printed elsewhere, including the United States (then contemplating whether to join the war).
During the late afternoon of April 22, 1915, the Second Battle of Ypres began. (The First Battle of Ypres took place during the autumn of 1915.) The Second Battle produced mass casualties: Finally, after four days of severe fighting, most of the Canadian forces were withdrawn on 26 April . About 6000 officers and men of the Canadian Division had been killed, wounded, captured, or had simply disappeared.
As a child, I visited my grandparents in Sixes, Georgia outside of Canton for the entire summer. There was no modern plumbing system only well water. All the water used for cooking and bathing had to be drawn by buckets from the well. I took my bath in a large tin bucket like the one in the picture hanging on the front porch. In the evening, I bathed on the back porch and the water had to be heated in a kettle on a old wooden stove. The tin bucket had many uses. It was used to wash the freshly picked garden vegetables and it was used to wash my behind.
My grandmother made her own soap for washing clothes. It was harsh and I never used it. I always prefer catching rain water for my bath. There was a delight in knowing I was being bathed from the waters that fell from the heavenly sky. Maybe there was star dust floating in the water or it might have been touched by the moon or kissed by an angel. In other words, it was a heavenly bath for a young child to enjoy.
In the last decade Columbus, Georgia has build a River Walk Park along the Chattahoochee River. It is miles of sidewalks, parks, and scenic views of the river. That was not the case when I was growing up in Columbus. Between 5 - 8 years old, my family lived in cotton mill houses on the Chattahoochee River. Behind our little white 4 room house the Chattahoochee River flowed against the edge of our backyard. It wasn't much of a backyard since it sloped downhill with black dirt and ended at the Chattahoochee River bank. I remember playing alone on the river bank many times. I would slide down the black dirt slope and wave my feet in the murky muddy waters. I only wore shoes to school but not for play. I was always running outdoors barefooted. I collected water bugs and put them in a jar. I would climb back up the hill covered in muddy black dirt. I never fell into the rushing waters which was very lucky for me indeed.
Large river rats hide in the rocks on the bank and would slip into our house at night. It was frightful hearing those large rats race across my bedroom floor. I was afraid to get out of my bed at night because of the rats. They were at least a foot long and/or as big as an adult cat. My parents worked in the cotton mills at that time and they were in their early 20's. They allowed me a tremendous amount of freedom running around the river bank and the neighborhood. I don't remember them every asking me where I had been. My mom would call my name from the back porch when she wanted me to come home for supper. I usually heard her calling my name regardless of where I was.
My little friends and I would get into plum fight wars. There were a lot of plum trees growing wild close to the river and picking green plums and throwing them at your friends was so much fun! Plum battles were common during the summer months. We also played baseball with broken tree limbs and used broken pine planks as bases. I don't know where we came up with a ball but we managed. I almost sound like a street kid don't I? I was a river kid who like 'Huckberry Finn' lived on the river bank and made my friends there; played there; had adventures there. I played barefoot along the river bank and it was memories I will always cherish. I didn't know I was poor since all my friends were poor like me. We were river bank kids from poor, hard-working, cotton mill families and happy.