Tuesday, October 9, 2007

My First Job

I've been following Miriam's prompts at AnceStories2: Stories of Me for My Descendants and writing in a private journal. This week's prompt is to record memories of my first job and then all the jobs that followed.

While researching a bit I found a web page that brought back a flood of memories. Since my first job was a bit unusual for a girl from Syracuse, NY, I thought I would share just a little bit here.

My first job was harvesting tobacco on my father and step-mother's farm near Clayton, NC. Dad remarried when I was twelve and we went to visit during the summer and get an introduction to farm life. They had a small, 32 acre, farm with a horse, a pony, some cows, hogs, chickens, and more.

The farm came with a 5 acre tobacco allotment. I don't recall clearly if they had tobacco that first year or if it was the next but we worked all summer long on the harvest along with my step-sisters and their cousin.

We would pick the ripe leaves from the bottom of the plants and pile them carefully on a specially designed wagon. By the time we were done in the field we'd be covered in black tar. Then we moved onto the barn where we'd tie the tobacco onto sticks. We'd work in groups of three with two people gathering three our four leaves neatly together and alternately handing them to the third who tied them onto the sticks. Once all of the leaves were on the sticks we'd move to the barn where people climbed up the racks of the barn and we'd pass the sticks up person to person to be hung. I'm not good with heights and being short I almost always worked on the barn floor. Dad would light the fire and we'd troop back to the house to clean up. Since we needed the well water for all of the animals we had to conserve water so the bath tub was filled and the cleanest went first. I was rarely first and I remember how hard it was to scrub the tar off.

When the tobacco was dry, we had to pass all the sticks back out of the barn and then untie them. I can't recall exactly how the untying went but when we had it off the sticks we had to "sheet" it. We carefully placed it in the center of a large cardboard ring set on burlap. After a few layers either my younger step-sister or I would have to climb in the ring and walk in circles to pack down the tobacco while others continued to add more leaves. This kicked up dust that caused me to have severe sinus headaches. Once the ring was filled to a certain point the ring was carefully removed and the burlap tied up. When that week's barn full had all been sheeted, Dad would take it over to the auction.

We were paid for our labor; $100 for the summer, which I thought was a fortune back then. I don't remember what I spent the money on but I'm certain I made it last.

Go here for a page that has some great pictures on the process we used. The pictures are from 1985, very close to the time I recall.

Edit: I wrote this when I was tired. I don't know why no family member called me on this but my first year on the farm would have been 1972, not 1982 but the pictures are still very representative.


Edith said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog - I wish that I did have seat belts for all my Kindergarten & 1st grade riders. This one who's belted is in 2nd grade now. Anyway...he's doing better overall I think.

I'll look forward to spending more time reading your blog and getting to know you a bit. I've got family members who are very into genealogy and I enjoy journaling. Your prompts will be helpful.

Have a blessed day.

Terry Thornton said...

Apple, Thanks for this most interesting "first job" essay. Your description of all that hard work makes me appreciate my easy first job of picking strawberries! The 1985 photos in the link you provided are wonderful. Thanks.
Terry Thornton
Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi

footnoteMaven said...


Thank you so much for all the tobacco information.

Some of my ancestors were tobacco farmers, but I knew nothing about it until now.


Miriam Robbins said...

Apple, when I was a girl, my parents and I all enjoyed the Piney Ridge series of Janice Holt Giles, which included The Enduring Hills, Miss Willie, and Tara's Healing. I re-read them about five years ago, and was struck by the description of the hot, dirty, hard work involved in harvesting tobacco, as portrayed in the first book. I very much enjoyed your perspective on it, as well as the photos on the Carter Farm website. Interestingly enough, my husband's Oliver ancestors came from Rockingham Co., North Carolina...it's nice to get an idea of the countryside of his ancestral home, too!