Since I’m now retired, I don’t have to worry about setting an alarm clock to wake me up every morning to get ready to go to work. When you’ve worked all of your life; however, it takes a while to get used to sleeping late.
I think for at least a year after I retired, my mind and my body still woke up at 6:15 and it was hard for me to go back to sleep. I have to say that it’s no problem at all to sleep late now that I’ve gotten adjusted to it. Of course, I can always stay up late, too, if I’m watching something on TV or reading a good book.
The first job I remember getting paid for was when my family lived in Lumberton. I was probably only 7 or 8 years old when my brothers, Richard, Mike and I decided we were going to help our neighbor pick cotton. We made big plans for all of that money we were going to make.
Our parents tried to tell us what hard work was involved in picking cotton, but we wanted to give it a try. They told us we would have to pick for one whole day because we owed it to our neighbor to give him at least one full day of work. Well, I’ve got news for you, that first job only lasted for one day!
All three of us together didn’t even pick quite a hundred pounds of cotton. Needless to say, we didn’t make very much money. I still have a lot of respect for those people who did that backbreaking job because they had no choice if they wanted to feed their family. Machines do that same job today, but they leave a lot of cotton on the stalk that wouldn’t be missed if it was picked by hand.
After my family moved back to Richmond County, I worked in the summertime in seasonal crops such as tobacco and peaches. When I was 12, I started out that summer working at Currie’s Peach Packhouse at Derby. Joyce Lambeth and I would put shipping information on the peach crates after they were put together.
One day when we got caught up on our particular job, we joined our brothers in a new game they invented. We would step up on a peach box and jump up and out and try to catch hold of the overhead rafters inside the packhouse. If we were able to catch hold of the rafter, we would swing like a monkey in a tree. Then we would move the peach box a little further away before we jumped again.
It was great fun until I jumped and missed and landed on my left arm. It was really hurting but of course I didn’t want to look like a wimp and cry and complain. I found I couldn’t move it; however, so I just held it tight against my side.
About that time, another load of peaches came in and I needed to go back to work. When Joyce saw I couldn’t use my arm, she called her mother over and told her what happened. Her mother told me to go out to their car and rest my arm for a while. She walked out to the car with me and asked me to let her take a look at it. By that time it had swollen so badly I couldn’t get my little birthstone ring off of my finger.
She told me to hop in the car and she took me home. Mama took one look at it and put me in our car and headed to the emergency room at Moore Regional Hospital. The doctor there had it X-rayed and said I had fractured my left wrist. In those days, what they did when you had a broken bone was put it in a hard cast. I didn’t even get a choice of colors — it was white or white!
When we got back home and Daddy came in from work I didn’t get much sympathy to start with. What I got instead was the question of the day: “Why were you playing when you were supposed to be working?”
My explanation about us being caught up with our job didn’t carry much weight with Daddy, because I was “being paid to work, not to play.” My brothers did speak up for me then and tell him that we all were caught up on our jobs before we started playing “Catch the Rafter.”
Daddy then gave me a hug and asked if my arm was hurting. That was the first of several broken bones I’ve had over the years and I have to say yes, they do hurt — especially for the first couple of weeks.
I worked every summer after that, either in tobacco or peaches. I thought I was really making big money when I started earning 75 cents for wringing peaches at Dewitt’s Packhouse. Money did go a lot further in those days and things just didn’t cost as much then as they do now. That money I earned during the summer always came in handy in buying new clothes to start school every fall.
It also taught me something about managing money. I soon found out if I spent my money on new record albums and things like that, I just didn’t have the money I needed to buy the clothes I wanted to start school.
I now understand that my parents tried to instill a good work ethic in their children. Whether it was picking cotton, working in peaches or whatever we chose to do, they always wanted us to do our best and complete the tasks we set out to do. If more people learned that lesson early in their lives, I’m sure it would make for a better work environment in today’s society.
Helping your neighbors on the farm is pretty much a thing of the past, but it certainly never hurt me or my brothers and friends. I never earned a lot of money in my career or had any long, important-sounding titles after my name, but I always did my job (whatever it happened to be) to the best of my ability.
Whether we are old and retired or young and spry, we should always give our best to whatever we undertake, no matter how menial it seems at the time. Now, don’t you almost feel sorry for those people who were born with a silver spoon in their mouth? They never got to work for a living like the rest of us good ole folks!
Azalea Bolton is a member of the Story Spinners of Laurinburg, Richmond County Historical Society and Richmond County Writers Club.
Azalea Bolton is a member of the Story Spinners of Laurinburg.