My boyhood’s August
School had been out for two whole months, beginning on the last day of May. It was now August and a full month and more of vacation time remained. It would be a month of action for many of the village children. We would cram all into it we could. This writer had been busy since that day he had returned from his last day of school, and joyously announced that he had been promoted to the next grade level. He was free now to explore the old fishing paths along the shallow waters of Swift Creek. He had been doing that every year since he had first followed his older brothers along these same paths. The warm and hot days of July had been perfect for his doing just that.
June and July had also been a time for working in the tobacco fields gathering the green leaf, then in the pack houses where the cured leaf was graded and tied into small bundles, ready for sale at the huge tobacco warehouses. He had looked forward to doing that each year since he was big enough to do son. August was the month for warehouses to open and buyers for the major tobacco companies would gather to make their bid for the golden leaf. That was long before the world woke up to the high cost of using tobacco!
The farmers from all over Darlington County would load their wagons and bring their crop to the warehouses. Wagon loads, not many trucks in those day, would be brought and unloaded on the large warehouse floors. The loud auctioneers would start their bidding as they made their way from pile to pile of tobacco. The farmer standing by his own pile would nod his head in a yes or no fashion, indicating his decision to accept the offer being made. It was indeed entertaining to this mill village boy who would be nearby taking it all in. I might even catch myself trying to imitate the auctioneer with my own words, “Peanuts, peanuts, boiled peanuts, get ’em while they’re hot!” Whether my sales pitch worked or not, selling boiled peanuts at the warehouse was an easy sale! Ten cents a bag or three bags for a quarter was the selling price, and they went fast!
The Darlington town square would be alive during August as farmers were seeing more money than they had seen since this time last year, and there would be more to come in a few weeks.
Early in August the cotton fields would start showing white and the village children would play a big part in the harvest of the white stuff. Unlike today, it was hand-picked and harvest time would begin early in August and last until mid October or even November.Fields would need to be picked over more than twice. The farmers were just as eager to have the village children work in the fields as the children were to work. Early in the morning, near daybreak, groups of children could be seen walking from the village to nearby farms. The farmers paid as little as they could get by with to have the cotton picked. I remember picking the white fluff for as little as twenty cents for a hundred pounds, and as much as forty cents for the same amount. I didn’t earn a lot for a week’s work, but the little earned went a long ways in the early and mid thirties.
By the time September arrived, and the doors of the big red school building would swing open, work on the farms would be slowing down. With the money I had earned, I would have purchased my next year’s school books, and several pairs of overalls with matching blue chambray shirts. A new St. Regis pocket watch and chain was a must every year and was included in my purchases. A few nickels would be stored away in a tin snuff can to be spent at the County Fair that came in October! I could hardly wait!
August is here and I am remembering the way that it was when I was a boy. Stay cool!
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. and author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.
His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C., 29673