roadside cotton

cotton burst

When my husband and I first moved to The South, almost 5 months ago now, there were fields planted off the sides of the road we take between town and home that I assumed were vegetables of some sort.  As I was driving by on Friday, I was shocked to see cotton blooming.

Cotton.  Right there, off the side of the highway between a car wash and a strip mall.

I don’t think I could have been any more surprised and delighted than if these plants had been sprouting tiny little shirts and jeans, fully made.

Don’t ask me why.  I’m a smart woman.  Intellectually, I know cotton is a plant, that it’s a natural fiber, yada, yada, yada.  But, as a Northern city chick, I had never seen it before.  I didn’t even know it was still grown in America, like it had disappeared along with slavery (or was outsourced like garment manufacturing).  It’s like seeing a chicken hatch for the first time.  Or milking a cow… you know that milk isn’t “born” in a grocery store carton, but seeing it come out of a cow is another story entirely.

So I made a u-turn and pulled over to the side of the road to snap some pictures.  Cotton, apparently, grows in little pods that seem to burst (!), popcorn-like, into cotton bolls.  It’s a little fibrous miracle.

cotton buds

Before she married my grandfather and became “that stuck up hick who talks funny” (life in the North was not kind to her), my grandmother was a real, live Southerner.  Her family were poor farmers, and she used to help out picking cotton growing up.  Something tells me that she probably didn’t find cotton as fascinating or magical as I seem to.

As I was sitting there taking my pictures, a long-forgotten song I had grown up singing sprang to mind – “Oh Lordy, pick a bale of cotton, Oh Lordy, pick a bale a day”. I have no idea why I would know this song, but even The Greek, a first generation American, said he’s heard it before.  Now I wonder if it’s a relic of my grandmother’s childhood in the South, passed on… or perhaps it’s a relic of the folk music revival of my childhood.  Who knows?  What I do know (after I came home and looked it up) is that it was recorded by a man who called himself Lead Belly in 1945 and again by Lonnie Donegan in 1973.  This is the version that sounds like what I grew up singing.


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