Field trip

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 19, 2009

Say “field trip” and the Brundidge Red Hat Ladies are sitting on ready.

However, when the field trip was really a trip to “the field,” they weren’t quite prepared for that.

No gals from the red clay fields of Alabama would don white sneakers, lilac pants and fancy red hats for a trip to the cotton field and the peanut field. But these ladies did.

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And that might have been understandable for three of the Red Hatters. They are from up north – way above the Mason-Dixon Line. Lorraine Dunnum and Barb Homann are from Wisconsin. Melodie Lauder hails from Pennsylvania.

Then, there was a Louisiana girl, Shirley Chapman.

Although she’s not from the red clay fields of Alabama, she still should have known better to dress like that.

And then, there were those Alabama born and bred Red Hatters who didn’t know any better either.

Nellie Sue Helms’ shoes were so bright white they almost put the sun to shame.

Betty Coppage shunned the cotton sacks and Dot Bullard shied away from the field like it was a pit of rattlesnakes. Farm girls? Said who?

Steve Ingram was the farmer/host for the real field trip and he enlightened even the gals from Alabam, first on the ups and downs of cotton farming and then the highs and lows of peanut farming.

The Red Hatters were astounded to learn that a 44-pound bag of cottonseeds that, in 1980, cost about $15 now costs $500. They were amazed to learn that the cottonseed has a gene that repels insects and one that allows farmers to spray Roundup over the top of their cotton.

“You mean the seeds have genes that do that?” Barb asked.

Ingram explained that technology has not passed farming by and farming is the better for it.

Picking cotton by hand was slow, hot, backbreaking work. Compared to today’s four- and six-row mechanical pickers, cotton picking has moved from the dark ages to the space age.

Betty gave the Red Hatters a brief description of her days in the cotton field and her story brought frowns to their brows.

“We’d get up before day and go to the field,” she said.

“It was hot and dirty work, honey. We’d take water in a quart jar and it was not cold water either. We’d put the jar under a bush or a shade tree to try and keep it as cool as we could. Most of the pickers would stay in the field until dinner but I was smart. I could cook so I got to go home with my grandmother about 10 o’clock and help her fix dinner. But then, I’d have to go back to the field in the afternoon and stay until dark.”

One of the ladies, who asked not to be identified, said she would put rocks in her cotton sack to make it weigh more.

Another said citrons would do the same thing and were not as delectable.

Nellie Sue remembered that, after dinner, the cotton pickers would take a short rest on the porch, “which was the coolest place in the house,” before going back to the field.

Shirley shared that she had experience chopping cotton but admitted that she wasn’t the best at getting the weeds out.

Several of the ladies strapped on cotton sacks and made a few feeble attempts at getting the cotton out of the bolls.

“I didn’t know that cotton had pink blooms. They’re pretty,” Lorraine said. The Red Hatters seemed a bit more interested in the beauty of the plant than its fiber. However, a couple of the ladies from up north went right to work in the field.

Melodie said she had never given much thought to cotton.

“We don’t have cotton and peanuts in Pennsylvania,” she said. “I recognize corn, wheat and soybeans but, when we drove passed fields down here, I wondered what was growing. When the plants ‘poofed’ and I saw white, I assumed it was cotton. But this is my first time ever in a cotton field.”

Barb tried her hand at picking cotton but she had taught daycare in Wisconsin and had rather talk peanuts.

“I taught three-, four- and five-year-olds and I wanted them to know more about where their food comes from so I planted a little plot of peanuts,” she said. “Those children know that peanuts grow under ground, not in trees.”

Barb’s story was a natural lead-in for the next phase of the Red Hat Ladies “field” trip – the peanut field.

Several of the ladies confessed to having hoed “at” the weeds in the peanut field and but none of them had stacked peanuts.

“We’re weren’t strong enough.”

Ingram told the Red Hatters that he was in Chicago and surrounded by 5,000 acres of corn as tall as the sky but the people there knew little to nothing about growing peanuts.

Ingram explained the lapping of peanuts and how they are inverted by machines now instead of a pitchfork.

He also demonstrated the art for “pulling” peanuts from the ground to pick off for a good boiling of goobers.

“You have to stomp back the vines and soften the ground so you can pull the peanuts out,” he said, as he demonstrated the vanishing art of peanut stomping.

“It’s hard to get them out of this hard, red dirt. Try it.”

In their bright, white “tennis” shoes, the ladies made their way out into the field and stomped as if they were on eggshells.

“Stomp harder. Pick your feet up and put ’em down!”

The Red Hatters are not too good at following stomping directions but they did manage to do a little more than get their shoes dirty.

Ingram explained the dangers of leaf spot and how it will strip a plant and the peanuts will not stay on the vine and that can be devastating to a crop – and a farmer.

“Back when Opal came through, I’d had a good crop going,” Ingram said. “Then it rained five inches one day and five the next and completely destroyed the crop. The weather can wipe you out in a hurry.”

The ladies asked Ingram if the weather is the determining factor as to whether a farmer will have a good crop or not.

“You can put thousands of dollars in a crop and a lot of hard work but if you don’t get some help from the Lord, you’re gonna be hurting,” he said.

There were a lot of amens behind that.

That’s the part of farming “and life” that the Red Hatters understand.