January 2015
Simple Times

Cotton ... The Royal Plant

Liz and Harold Rosser in the cotton field.  

Harold will do practically anything on the farm with a smile, BUT he doesn’t belong in the cotton field!"

That was what Harold Rosser’s father Norman said about him as the family farmed beside Oak Grove Church along a rural area of Alabama Highway 79 growing cotton until 1946.

"I didn’t like anything to do with cotton," Harold remembered. "The bending over, the hoeing, the way it stuck my fingers. I did it, but I hated cotton picking!

"There was nothing but hard work, daylight till dark. There was no 9 to 5 on the farm. I enjoyed most of it, but I hated picking that cotton."

So why did Harold and part of his family recently spend an enjoyable day in a cotton field actually picking cotton for fun???

"It’s such an important part of our heritage. The younger folks won’t know anything about it unless we tell them and show them," Harold explained.

For many years the Rossers hosted an annual springtime Mule Plowing Day on their farm just off Lena Road in Blount County, often having as many as 250 to 300 guests.

  Karlie Mann rides on the pick sack that belonged to Boyce Faust’s late mother, Mattie Lee Blackwood Faust, as her great-granddad Harold Rosser picks cotton.

"It was important to keep our heritage alive," Harold stated.

Growing legal liabilities and time marching on in their own lives ended the public plowing days, but keeping the farming heritage alive is still alive.

Harold’s wife Elizabeth (who he calls Liz) grew up right on the Rosser’s current farm.

Harold was a "strategic executive" for Rental Service Corporation and the couple built a home in Birmingham in 1958 where they raised their three children (now grown to include seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren).

In 1998, the couple MOVED the home they’d built in Birmingham to Liz’s family’s Lena Road farm, where it looks as if it has always been a part of the landscape!

This past fall, Liz and Harold looked out over the cotton fields surrounding their home where Liz once picked cotton herself. (The acreage is now part of the more than 761 acres leased, rented or owned and cotton farmed by Lance and Jimmy Miller from the Snead-area farming operation that also includes farming operations with additional acres of peanuts, chicken houses and more.)

"We were talking about how all the schools used to let out for at least two weeks of ‘cotton picking’ in the fall so families’ kids could help pick cotton in the fields," Harold recalled.

"Our daughter Sheila Wooten is a professional photographer and we just decided we’d show some of the grandkids how it was back then."

Included in the day’s activities were getting to "ride" on a cotton sack while Harold picked, picking cotton themselves, and hauling the fluffy blooms out of the cotton fields in one of Harold’s wagons.

Twins Kaylee and Karolina Mann with some of the cotton they helped pick.  

A special item was Boyce Faust’s mother’s (Mattie Lee Blackwood) pick sack! She used that sack throughout the 1960s until her family quit farming cotton in 1970.

While Harold doesn’t actually miss getting his fingers pricked in the cotton fields each fall, he can appreciate the words said by Henry W. Grady in Elberton, Ga., in June 1889 as part of a speech entitled "The Farmer and the Cities."

Grady, an editor, public speaker, civic leader and national figure, is often given credit for having "done more than any other man to heal the wounds between the North and South after the Civil War," including a tribute in "Agriculture Classics" published by the Progressive Farmer in 1967.

Grady spoke eloquently of cotton: "What a royal plant it is! The world waits in attendance on its growth. The showers that fall whispering on its leaves are heard around the earth. The sun that shines upon it is tempered by the prayers of all the people. The frosts that chill it and the dews that descend from the stars are noted ....

"It is gold from the time it puts forth its tiniest shoot. Its foliage decks the somber earth in emerald green. Its blossoms reflect the brilliant hues of sunset skies in Southern climes and put to shame the liveliest rose; and when, losing its snowy fleeces at the sun, it floats a banner that glorifies the field of the humble farmer, that man is marshaled under a flag that will compel the allegiance of the world and wring a tribute from every nation of the Earth.

"Its fiber is currency in every bank in all the world. Its oil adds luxury to lordly banquets in noble halls and brings comfort to lowly homes in every clime. Its meal is feed for every beast that bows to do man’s labor from Norway’s frozen peaks to Africa’s parched plains.

"It is a heritage that God gave to this people when He arched the skies, established our mountains, girded us about with oceans, tempered the sunshine and measured the rain.

"Ours and our children’s forever and forever - and no princelier talent ever came from His omnipotent hand to mortal stewardship!"

While cotton is not the "king" it once was in the South (thanks in part to that little boll weevil that changed the face of Southern farming), new technologies mean farmers such as the Millers are growing cotton for the worldwide market once again - utilizing the newest technologies to pick the fluffy white blooms so that no fingers are pricked!

And while they cherished the afternoon sharing a big part of their heritage with part of their family, the Rossers are thankful children don’t have to walk those long dusty rows each fall!

Suzy Lowry Geno lives a simple life at Old Field Farm in Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.