Letters from Louise: Fired from the Peanut Patch

Written by Louise Tucker Jones in the June 2010 Issue

I had no idea how to "shake" peanuts nor did I care.  At ten years old I was just happy to get away from the house and not have to scrub dirty, bug-infested fruit jars for Mama's canning.

After a half-mile walk, my brother, Jimmy and I arrived at the peanut patch.  I don't know what I expected but whatever it was it didn't match what I saw.  There were vines crawling all over the ground.  The attached peanuts were covered with clods of dirt and creepy insects.

Jimmy, a year and half my senior, had worked in the field with my father and older brothers so he came prepared with a pair of work gloves.  I on the other hand, brought nothing except my lunch—a cold, scrambled egg sandwich and a fruit jar filled with ice water.  After the owner guided us to a patch of the field, Jimmy dug his hands into the dirt and shook the daylights out of those peanut vines.  I watched and frowned then shook a vine gingerly, getting a face and mouth full of dirt in the process.

By noon, it was obvious to Mr. McElhannon that I was not an asset to his peanut patch so he sent me to his cotton field, another half-mile down the road, where I was handed a tow sack with an attached strap.  I looped the strap over my small body and began plucking the soft, white cotton from the hulls.  The sun was scorching hot and the thought of washing fruit jars at home didn't seem all that bad anymore.  The rough bag still held a strong aroma of seed or feed, which I wasn’t sure.

Finally, it was quitting time and I weighed in my little bag of “fluff.”  The woman placed two coins in my hand and I stared in disbelief.  I had worked all day and earned only two cents.  I left the cotton field and trudged up the dusty road to the little country store where I was to meet Jimmy and Daddy.  I was tired, thirsty and humiliated.

Jimmy met me at the door while swigging down an ice-cold bottle of Royal Crown Cola, which he paid for with his earnings.  I didn't even have a nickel for a bottle of pop.  Suddenly, Daddy opened the squeaky, screen door of the store and walked inside.  Jimmy ran to show him how much money he had earned.  I held back.  Finally, the inevitable question came.

"How much money did you make, Sis?" Daddy asked.

I stared down at my dirty shoes then brought my hand from behind my back and opened it to show him my two pennies.  Tears pricked the backs of my eyes as I told Daddy about my day.  I was certain he would be mad, but instead he roared with laughter and pulled me to his side.  Then he turned to the other men in the store and told them of my grand adventure.

"Hey, listen to this.  Louise worked all morning at McElhanon's peanut patch.  He fired her without pay then sent her to the cotton field where she worked all afternoon and was paid only two cents."  Everyone agreed that was a lot of work for such a meager amount of money.  Daddy hugged me even closer.  He was actually proud of me.  Proud of my efforts and tenacity.

Throughout my life, Daddy remained my hero, blessing me with love, laughter and song.  He gave me a heritage of hard work along with a strong faith in God.  And though he never once told me his philosophy of life, I began to understand it at that little country store when I was fired from the peanut patch.  

Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful daddies who bless their children’s lives daily!


Mary Buchanan Says:
June 9th, 2010 at 6:35 pm
I was spared from the peanut patch and all the dirt that went with it but recall many rows of picking cotton . I can smell the 'scent' today of the hot sweaty and dirty cotton patch that ran along side the North bank of Salt Creek . One of Mr. McElhanon's I worked in while you were in the peanut patch : )
Loved the article too...thanks for the memories.
Mary B

Joan McGuire Says:
June 20th, 2010 at 11:58 pm
I also tried my hand in the peanut patch, cotton fields, and pecan orchard. The memories your column brought back to me was ever so insprirng and to think of all the work as young kids that we were expected to do. Just to go back for a day I would gladly do it all over again. Look what our kids have missed out on I'm sure they know nothing of how wonderful it was and our parents where so smart about everything, and so loving and forgiving if we didn't do it just right.
The article was refreshing and full of memories.
Joan McGuire
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