In a few months, Tax Deduction #1 and #2 will be out of school for the summer, and I’m pondering how to keep my little piranhas occupied.
During the summers of my childhood, things were different. Before the residue of schoolhouse chalk had worn off our fingers, many of us were ushered to the nearest tobacco field, issued a pack of Nabs for rations, and ordered to crop no more than four leaves per stalk.
It was not uncommon to see eight of us piled in the back of a pickup truck — six sitting in the truck bed, and usually, the two new guys relegated to the tailgate. If a few leaves of tobacco flew off the trailer, the truck would stop and one of the tailgate stooges would be dispatched to retrieve them.
Watching a kid who wasn’t old enough to shave dodge in and out of traffic to retrieve enough tobacco to make maybe a tenth of a pinch of snuff was a valuable life lesson.
Working in tobacco also instilled something everyone needs to make it in today’s world. It’s seen by many as a negative, but when channeled properly, it can save your life. I’m talking — of course — about paranoia.
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There is nothing like picking up a bundle of tobacco sticks and having a snake rare up at you like a Jack In The Box to test your intestinal fortitude. When this happened to me, my grandfather went to work on the serpent with a tobacco stick, causing a knot to raise up on the snake’s noggin just like the kind you’d see in the Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons.
This incident — paired with my encounter with a recently-vacated 5-foot long snakeskin under a house while pulling wire as an electrician’s assistant — means I currently get all of my outdoor living done in the winter. I won’t step foot outside during the summer without a pair of hip wader boots, a vial of snakebite serum, a machete, and a pair of salad tongs.
If you doubt this type of work builds character, look no further than Town of La Grange Citizen of the Year recipient Tyrone Morgan. We worked a few summers together on the same crew, and I contend that I’m partially responsible for his success later in life.
Like many of us, Tyrone wore a rain suit while cropping tobacco in the mornings. Until the sun had time to do away with the cold dew on the tobacco, you could get drenched while those leaves repeatedly slapped you about the head and torso. If your clothes soaked up enough of that water, by noon it felt as if someone had rolled your clothes in roofing insulation.
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Most of us wore a cheap gas station poncho, but Tyrone had a rain suit that was on par with the one worn by the Gorton’s Fisherman. I’m not sure when Lenoir County was last hit by a tsunami, but Tyrone Morgan was ready for it.
The last summer we worked together, Tyrone convinced the entire crew to refer to me as Kramer from Seinfeld, so one day, I retaliated by hiding his beloved rain suit.
When Tyrone realized it was missing, he tore every vehicle in the field apart looking for it, to no avail. Eventually, we had to get started, so in all his agony, he sat down in the front right cropping seat and me in the back left. As we eased into the tobacco field and those cold, wet leaves began to hug Tyrone like a crowd of long-lost cousins, he hollered as if a bear was gnawing on his ankles.
When we reached the end of the first row and he realized that I was wearing his rain suit, his appreciation of the work I’d put into the joke overpowered any desire to attack me with a hammer.
As for my two Tax deductions, I think I’ll keep them busy this summer by having them build a new porch. We already have a porch, but it never hurts to have a spare.
Jon Dawson’s books are available at http://www.JonDawson.com.
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