Reflection on the Plains: How I Celebrate Cotton

Like some of you, I grew up the son of a cotton farmer. We farmed west of Abilene without any irrigation: dry land farming, it was called. I spent the summer and winter breaks as well as evenings after school helping Dad however I could, especially during harvest season.

I remember a particular day in 1990 when I was in first grade. The largest piece of land Dad farmed was 260 acres, and he had planted it entirely in cotton. This turned out to be one of the best crops he ever had. My parents wanted me to be a part of it, and I am so thankful that they did.

During that winter, Mom & Dad pulled me out of school for a day to “play hooky.” We were a small operation of usually Dad, myself, and Mom. My first grade teacher, being the daughter of a cotton farmer herself, was completely on board with the idea. Even so, I really thought I was getting away with something.

What I got instead was the sight of my dad in the field, blissfully happy and proud of what he had accomplished. I was able to see him and my mom work as a team: Dad on the 484 John Deere and Mom at the controls of the towering, faded orange module builder. I got to take the controls myself quite a bit that day. We saw turkeys crossing through the snow white fibers on their way to the mesquite and cactus-filled pasture. Mom and I jumped around on a sea of compacted cotton in the top of the module builder.

That crop, and that day, means a lot to our family. Mom had the foresight to take as many photos as she could and put them in an album. It is a prized possession. For years, Dad would keep duplicate photos from that album on his desk. Mom, being the thoughtful and creative person she is, made a wreath using bolls of cotton from that harvest with the year delicately painted on a small piece of wood.

This is what I think about when I celebrate cotton. I think about my dad, the memories we made that day, and the many more we made after. I think of ceremonially spray-painting his initials on each module once they were ready to head off to the gin. I think of the times we were in the field together in the summer, with me running beds and him on the planter. I think of waiting in the module builder for him to bring in those first three baskets of cotton so I could start “packin’ ‘er down”. I think of him waiting in the module builder for me to bring in those first three baskets. I think of him and his father sharing similar memories.

And now, with him gone, I will pass by the beautiful, meticulously manicured and irrigated cotton fields on the South Plains and silently tell him how much I wish we could share such a moment.

On Saturday, I will celebrate cotton by remembering my dad.

Dad in Cotton-edit01

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