The Cotton Picking Sack

As a sixty year old woman, I wonder why I was so anxious to grow up so quickly.  I could have waited and remained a child for many more years.

Here it was again. The beginning of the summer cotton picking season; and Mom was distributing the cotton picking sacks to my sisters, brother, and me.

 I was so excited. I knew I was old enough to get my very own large cotton picking sack that adults used. I had cried previous summers when my mom would hand me a burlap sack that little kids used. I was no longer a little girl.

 Mom saved the largest sack for herself and handed another large sack to my oldest sister. I kept smiling knowing that it would be my turn before too long. My older sister got the following cotton picking sack.

Mom looked at me and said, "I have no money to pay for a large sack for you, my dear."

"What do you mean?"  I cried.

How could my mother do this to me?  I was too old for a burlap sack.  I stomped to the bedroom so that I could cry my heart out by myself.

I could hear my younger sister and brother laughing as they received their burlap sacks.  They were happy to begin the summer cotton picking season.  They were not too old for a burlap sack.  I was already ten years old and I needed a cotton picking sack for adults.

I was caught in the middle again.  I was never old enough for most things, and I was never young enough for most things.  I was never enough to fit in anywhere.

Mom walked into the bedroom and said, "Mijita, I will talk to the foreman tomorrow and ask him to lend me a cotton picking sack for an adult."

I rubbed my tear swollen eyes and looked at my mother to see if she was telling me the truth.  I could tell that my mom felt bad that I was crying.

When we arrived at the cotton fields next morning, I saw my mom approach the foreman.

"Domingo, I need to buy a cotton sack from you for one of my daughters." I heard my mom say.

"Teresa, are you asking for a large cotton sack for your daughter, Paula?  He asked as he looked at me.  She is too young to fill a cotton sack all by herself.  Just give her a costal (burlap sack)."

My mom responded, "No, Mingo, my daughter is old enough to fill the cotton sack by herself.  She says she is too old to carry a costal."

Domingo winked at me as he handed me a brand new cotton picking sack just like my older sisters had.

I felt like a grown up as Mom showed me how to place the thick strap of the sack on my shoulder.  I knew I was no longer a baby.

When we reached the other end of the field to select our rows of cotton, I noticed that Mom selected four cotton rows for us.  I looked at her with a question in my eyes.

"Mija, you need a row of cotton all your own so that you can fill the big cotton sack," my mom said.

Having a cotton row all to myself was scary.  But, I was determined to prove to everyone that I was old enough to carry a cotton picking sack for adults.  I quickly began to pick cotton and stuff it into my sack.

I kept looking back every five minutes to see if my sack was getting as full as the ones that my mom and sisters had.  An hour later, I felt like I would never be able to pick enough cotton to fill the sack.  But, I was determined to prove to Mom that I deserved an adult-sized cotton sack.

Two hours later, I did not have to look back to know that I was filling up the cotton sack.  I was having problems walking forward.  The cotton sack felt heavy on my shoulder no matter how I twisted the strap that went around the shoulder.  Now I understood why my mom and older sisters did not talk while picking cotton.  It was hard pulling the big sack behind me as I picked cotton and tried to stay up with everybody else.

Mom saw my red face under the hot sun and came toward me.  She took the strap off my shoulder and used both her hands to hold the sack up.  She shook the sack up and down.

"It is easier to pull the sack behind you if you push the cotton to the very bottom." she explained.  We have about an hour before lunch."

I wondered if I could hold out for a full hour, but I said nothing.  I kept on picking, even though the strap on my shoulder was cutting into my skin.  That was a sign that I was really filling up my cotton sack.

I looked around and noticed that my sisters were hauling their cotton sacks on to their shoulders.

"It's lunch time," my mother said as he turned to look at me.

The panic was all over my face; there was no way I could lug the cotton sack up onto my shoulder and walk all the way to the truck to weigh it.

"Here, let me show you how to do this," my mom said as she picked up the sack and placed it on my shoulder.

The heavy cotton sack kept falling off my shoulder.

"Once the sack is on your shoulder, place your hand on your hip so that the sack will not fall to the ground," instructed my mother.

I was ready to cry with exhaustion, but was determined to keep my agony to myself.  I walked as much as I could and had to keep stopping to re-adjust the sack on my shoulder.

I finally made it to the truck and trailer and let the huge cotton sack fall to the ground as I waited in line for the foreman to weigh the my sack.

"Let's see how much this brand new cotton sack weighs, little one," said the foreman, Domingo.

I gave him a huge smile.  I knew the cotton had to weigh at least one hundred pounds.

"Let's see," said Domingo, "You have thirty pounds of cotton, mija."

I could not believe my ears!  All morning long, and I had only picked thirty pounds of cotton.  That meant I had earned about $1.25.  My face turned as red as my shoulder.

My mom quickly placed her arm around me and said, "thirty pounds of cotton is a good morning's work.  You have earned the right to use a large cotton sack for adults."

I was determined not to cry.  I was so exhausted, I could not eat.  I simply lay under the trailer and fell asleep.

It seemed like I had slept for five minutes when Mom woke me up an hour later.

"You can stay here longer, if you like," she said.

I quickly rose to my feet as my whole body protested.  My shoulder was in pain from where the strap of the cotton sack had rubbed the skin raw.  I was determined not to admit that maybe I had asked for a large cotton sack a few years too early.

My mouth silently switched the strap to my other shoulder without saying a word.

I headed out to the fields with my mom and older sisters.  My younger sister and brother would sleep a little longer under the trailer.

I kept wuiet as I picked cotton the rest of the afternoon.

We followed the same procedure of weighing our cotton sacks before going home.  I remained quiet when Don Domingo told me my cotton sack weighed sixty pounds.

"Mijita, you should be proud of yourself.  You have worked hard all day long." praised my mom.

I folded my cotton sack and climbed on to the truck to head back home.  I sat on the cushion my big folded cotton sack provided and thought about everything that my huge cotton picking sack represented.  I looked at my mom and two older sisters with a new-found respect and sadness.

None of us could exchange our huge cotton picking sack for the light burlap sack reserved for the children.