Picking Clean Cotton

Even though my mother spoke no English, I was learning the most important lessons in life.  All I had to do was watch how my mother lived life.  She was good at answering my questions and tying in everyday life with the values of honesty, courage, and perseverance.

I learned about honesty while I picked cotton.  I remember that not all people picked cotton in the same manner.  Some pickers would not just pick the pure white part of the cotton plant.  They would start from the bottom of the plant and take the leaves, some of the branches and boll, along with the cotton.  Other pickers would add dirt and stones into the cotton bags.  Mom had taught us to pick only the white part of the cotton and place it in the sack.  Our way of picking cotton was slower, it would take longer to fill the sack and then the cotton sack would not weigh as much as the others.

I began to pick like some of the other pickers.  I picked faster and my cotton was dirtier.  Mom told me that was not the right way to pick cotton when she observed what I was doing.

I stood up, placed my hands on my hips and said, "Everyone else picks cotton differently than we do.  They leave us way behind.  We are the last ones to finish picking a row; we are the last ones to fill a cotton sack; and by the end of the day we have made less money than most of the other cotton pickers."

Mom responded with the question:  And if all those cotton pickers jump in the canal without knowing how to swim, will you follow them also?"

I looked at my mother with a puzzled expression on my face.  What on earth was she talking about?

She continued.  "You don't do things just because other people do them.  You need to decide what is right and then follow through based on your truth."

"But Mom," I argued."  "some of your friends and relatives do not pick clean cotton.  I've seen them put stones in the cotton sacks so that they will weigh more.  We are losing money by the way we pick cotton."

"Truth is more important than money," Mom said quietly.

I looked at my mom while she picked cotton and realized that truth and honesty were important to me, also.  I understood that many times, following my truth, meant following the lonely road, the one less traveled.

Several times I heard the foreman explain to cotton pickers that they needed to pick cleaner cotton.  I knew I would feel shame if the foreman ever had to tell me and my mom that our cotton was not clean enough.

And so it was that, at a young age, under the hot sun in the middle of the cotton fields, I learned about truth and honesty from my mother.


Discussion and Writing Prompts:

1.  What important  life lessons have you learned in life by watching your parents lead their lives.  Write or talk about your lesson and elaborate about it in a well developed essay.

2.   Draw a cotton bag.  Decorate it with words pictures and quotes that go with the story.

3.   What activities does your family enjoy doing together?  Do these activities provide time for discussions for the opportunity for learning?  Explain and use examples.

4.  What if someone does not have a traditional family unit?  Think of nontraditional family units?  Can they create activities and situations to learn life lessons?  Explain.

5.  Draw a cotton plant.  Decorate it and cut it to look attractive.  What kind of discussions can plants have with one another?  What lessons can they teach one another?  What lessons can students learn from having discussions with lesson plants?