When I saw the main promotional poster for new WGN TV series Underground this week, it took me aback. Not because of the show’s subject matter (according to this review, Underground ain’t the “same old, same old” and deserves a chance to shine), but because 1) the poster itself is artistically powerful to me, and 2) any time I see a field of cotton, that field reminds me of my mother, rest her soul.
Images like this probably bring up thoughts of slavery and the 1800s for most people, but Blacks were still picking cotton in the 1930s, 40s, and beyond.
Mom started picking cotton along with my grandparents when she was about 5 years old. It couldn’t be helped. Though an adult could pick several hundred pounds on a really good day, the pay rate was nowhere near enough to live on ($1.00 per 100 pounds if that), so as soon as you were strong enough to walk or crawl pulling a picker sack behind you, you had to hit the fields. Mom’s descriptions of back pain from walking bent over every day from sunup to sundown, the saw briars slicing her skinny legs, excruciating stings from paddlesack worms, and dried cotton boll burrs stabbing and reopening the cuts on her sore little hands from the day before are always brought to mind.
I also remember that the few times she spoke of it were with sadness and grace rather than bitterness or hatred. How she managed that, I don’t know. Hatred is so easy and, let’s face it, warranted at times, yet she always tried to rise above it somehow.
Cotton in its natural state reminds me of my mother’s grace, and how that grace always filled me with wonder.