The Good Ole Summertime

children picking tobacco

By Bill Shepard

When I was a boy, summer for me began on the day after school was out for the long summer vacation. May 31st was the last day of school. The final exam had been given during that final week. The tests were corrected, and determination as to who would be going to the next grade level had been made. The last day at school was fun time, especially for those who were being promoted, and a sad time for those who were not. I was promoted, I could whistle all the way home!

On that last day of school, I would search for a person who would be moving from the grad level to which I was being promoted, and ask to purchase their books. There were no free books furnished by the state at that long ago time.

New books could be purchased at the News and Press office that was located on Pearl Street at that time. They also sold other school supplies. This writer never owned a new book. I often wondered what it would be like to own a new book, feel of it, smell of it, and turn the pages that were crisp and clean. It never happened.

Bill Shepard

Bill Shepard

My books taken care of, I was free to move on into summer. It felt so good to awaken in the early morning, dress for the day and not have to wear shoes. This was barefoot time! The trees in the big swamp nearby were all dressed out in their new coats of green. My last year’s fishing cane would need a new line and the rusty fishhook would need replacing. I would purchase a new cane pole and supplies with some of the money I expected to earn any day now. There were small chores to be done such as hoeing and raking grass from neighbors’ yards. There were no lawns to be mowed in those times.

Most of the village folk used wood-burning stoves for cooking. Pine slabs from the sawmill would need cutting to size for use in the stoves. An extra dime would be added if I stacked the wood for drying.

As summer advanced, I would find work at nearby farms. The tobacco growing in the fields would need attention from the day it began growing until harvest time. The farmers were eager to have the help that the village children could furnish. Working in the tobacco fields, I could earn five cents an hour. When the crop was ready for harvesting, a farmer would need a large number of helpers. Field workers were needed for gathering the crop, a person could earn as much as ten cents an hour for cropping the ripe leaves. There were barn workers needed for stringing the leaves on long sticks and then hanging them in the barn for curing. There was much work to be done before the crop was ready for sale.

Tobacco warehouses opened in early August in Darlington. At that time, the town square really came alive! As money from the sale of tobacco began to flow, merchants on the square felt the results. Some of the stores added new workers to help during this most busy time of the year.

Following tobacco season, there would be cotton to pick. The crop was gathered by hand in those days. I could earn as little as twenty cents for picking a hundred pounds of cotton. Harvesting the cotton crop could be a long process.

Schools would reopen in mid-September; the long summer vacation would be over. I would also have purchased new overalls and matching blue shirts. If money were left over, I would save it to be spent at the County Fair that would be coming in early October.

My summer vacation being over, I would begin looking forward to next year, and my gold ole summertime!

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.

Author: Duane Childers

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