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June 03, 1941 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1941-06-03

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Page Nine

...By ervie Haufler

Y UNCLE PETE is a sharecrop-
per on our farm. It-isn't a
farm to be very proud to own.
It's a hundred acres of Ken-
tucky hill-land - all rocky hills of clay
that wash and gulley till gfass won't
graw on them. Our share of the money
hardly pays the taxes and the interest,
much less anything on. the principle.
Uncle Pete has to keep a wife and seven
kids on his half.
He does a pretty damned good job
of it. His children all go to school. The
oldest son has graduated from Berry
High School and is in the Navy. They
are all big eaters, and Pete keeps food
in front of them.
Of course there's not much for trim-
min's. They eat staples. The boys wear
work clothes and use any hand-me-
downs for Sunday. My Dad can find no
better way of pleasing Pete than to take
him a pint of Old Joe when we go
squirrel or bird hunting. They don't live
very pretty, none of them.
Pete. is sort of burned out from the
trouble of it. His eyes are deep and his
face is lined and his body is as long and
gaunt as Abe Lincoln's. He looks homely
and tals homely - lots of cuss words,
no grammar, a hill-country twang. His
wife's voice- is like her too - big and
stout. For a long time there she averaged
a kid a year, and no twins. She only
lost one out of eight.
The money on the farm comes chiefly
from hogs, sheep and tobacco, with some
extra coming from butter cream, calves
and chickens. Of these, the tobacco mon-
ey is probably the biggest blessing. Pete
sells his tobacco around the first of
the year, when there isn't any garden
truck to put on the table and there is
nary a chicken to sell.
So that I was home from school for
Christmas Vacation when he sold his
last crop. I had heard a lot of tobacco
chanting on the radio - it was quite
a fad - but I never had actually seen
tobacco sold. Well, I decided to go along
with Pete when the tobacco from our
farm was auctioned off.
I drove our Ford from Covington down
t Kelat - a few houses and stores
beading.the LLL highway. Pete was wait-
ing there on the porch of one of the
stores. He had on overalls, gum boots,
an amorphous green hat and one of my
old suit coats. He was obviously dis-
appointed that my Dad hadn't come
along, since his mouth was watering for
his Old Joe.
I lit out fast for Cynthiana. Pete and
I talked about the gray day - made it
pretty God-damned bad for tobaccy
a 'ictioneering, he said. Too dark for the
buyers to judge the color right. I asked
him if tobacco was selling good,
"It's down one day and up the next,"
he said. "Mostly down, I reckon. Them
buyers all git together and keep the
price pretty well in hand. Ain't no farm-
er gittin' rich."
"How much you got this time?"
"Nineteen hundred pounds, pretty
near," he said. "A good crop for that
piece of clay."
"Pretty nice chunk of money there,"
I said.
"It all depends. Boy, when prices range
#rem four cents a pound to thirty-five
a pound, they can make ye or break
ye in a couple of minutes."
"How much do you think yours'll
"Well, there's a heap of lugs and trash
that won't bring over seven, eight cents.
But thebright and red is pretty good,
ought tn bring twenty-five or so. I
figure it'l1 average eighteen to twenty
cents. It-better,God-damn it. That mon-
ey' got to go a long ways, That old
bastard Fisher has been yapping his
danged head off about the grocery bill.
Aid-they ain't a pair of shoes in the
house that'll keep out the snow. And Vi-

ola'd like to raise some turkeys this year
if we can get together enough for the
seed birds. God damn it, it's always
THE WAREHOUSE was on the out-
skirts of Cynthiana. We parked and
went in, entering a little square room
with pictures of horses on the walls. Even
there we could smell the tobacco, a
bittersweet winy smell that I liked,
though I do not smoke. We went on
into the warehouse. Before me stretched
long, long rows of baskets of tobacco,
lighted through the sky-light, a rich
golden brown.
Pete gave me a practical education in
tobacco-buying as we walked around

a pound. That would be about a hun-
dred and seventy dollars apiece. It was
a big chunk of money for a farmer.
"A pretty good chunk," he agreed. "But
hell, I've already got it spent. Haven't
paid that basta'd Fisher for months and
I owe him damned near a hundred
dollars. And if you put all the leather
in the family together you wouldn't
have a. pair of shoes. And them seed-
turkeys come high - Old John Lang
wants twelve dollars for a gobbler. God-
dogit, it just looks like it don't rain
but what it pours."'
We waited for the buyers and the auc-
tioneer to arrive. They were over at
one of the' other warehouses. Nervous-
ness began to w'ork into me. I examined

bastards when they ain't abuyin'."
A big wad of men poked through the.
doors now. "There's the auctioneer,"
Pete said, "That fellow with his hat
turned up in front. Name's Bill Penn."
I stretched my neck to look at him.
He was a stocky little red-faced man.
PENN WALKED to the first roy of to-
bacco and the buyers lined up be-
hind him. Several warehousemen went
on ahead. They would inspect each bas-
ket and yell out the price they thought
the tobacco ought to bring. It's to their
interest to sell as high as they can,
since the farmer pays them a commission
of two-and-a-half per cent.
The auctioneer takes this number and
starts singing it. "Twenny two-two-two
who'll make it three-eree-eree," he
chants. Penn backs up slowly as he waits
for the buyers to bid. They reach into
the baskets of tobacco, pull out several
"hands" at a time, look at it, smell it.
They move much faster than I had
ever expected. Oftentimes a basket is
judged auctioned, bought and ticketed in
ten or fifteen seconds. Penn sings out
two or there changes of bids, waves his
hand and the basket is sold.
IHe backs slowly down the long rows.
"This un's good smoker," yells a ware-
houseman or "Can't git no better lugs
than these. Bid high, men." They coe
to a great crop of tobacco owned by a
lady. She has on good clothes, probably
runs a rich valley farm someplace, but
sIe is nervous about the price of her
tobacco just the same. She walks along
with the warehousemen and they yell,
"He'p the lady, men. Bid high for the
lady." It looks like beautiful tobacco to
me, and a lot of it sells for twenty-seven.
to thirty cents, but the lady is not
"That's damn fine tobaccy to pay as
low as she got," Pete says. "River bottom
tobaccy." He draws hard on his cigre
now. It does not leave his mouth.
They haven't long to sell today. They
only sell when the light comes strong
though the skylights, and today is gray.
"Sun bakes hell out of you when you're
workin' on this stuff." Pete says, "and
then when you need the son-of-a-bitch
he disappears." They move down the
sows at a fast clip and come on towards
our crop. Pete tugs a few green spots out
of a hand. then stops that, saying. "They
ain't no use messin' with the damned.
stuff now. It's either goin' to sell or it
The crop next to ours sells. Some of
the baskets sell for seven cents. None
get past eighteen.
While they are auctioning off that
crop, the warehousemen have started
inspecting ours. The first basket, Pete
whispers to me, is a big lot of good lugs.
"Oughta bring eighteen cents," he says.
-The warehousemen yells, "Some good
lugs, men. Seventeen cents if it's worth
a penny."
Penn starts his chant. Maybe I am
nervous, but I can't understand im now
at all, until he says "Sold" and waves
his hand.
"Fifteen cents," says Pete.
While he is telling me that, they have
sold a basket of trash for nine cents.
They move to a big, high basket of
bright and red. It is the best of the lot,
The warehouseman yells, "Twenty-three
Pete's lips push his cigaret flat. "The
dumb bitch," he says. "That basket is
worth twenty-eight cents of anybody's
It sells for twenty-five and he feels a
little better
The next basket - some more good
lugs - goes for thirteen cents.
"If I'd only a-sold it two days ago,
or waited," Pete says.
WESTAND THERE -and wtch as the
line of buyers passes. They laugh'
(Contin ed on Page Twelve)


among the baskets. The best tobacco
is a light yellow. Green leaves are the
worst. He separates his tobacco accord-
ing to the color-and the kind of leaves
they are - flyin' or trash leaves are
down at the bottom of the stalk, lugs
are the second or third leaves, then
come the bright and red, and the tips,
best of all. But nowadays big farmers
throw all their tobacco together. Buyers
like it that way because they can buy a
lot of bad tobacco along with the good
and then put it all in the "smoker"
tobacco. r
We finally found our crop. It was
not even "lined up' on the floor, so
Pete had them move it into line. The
warehouseman brought spadelike wheel-
barrows, slipped them under the baskets
and wheeled them into one of the long
rows. Pitiful little bit of tobacco our
crop seemed! Nine baskets, with two of
these pretty green and sorry-looking.
Pete examined it, patted it, took opt a
"hand" and made me smell it.
Nineteen hundred pounds. Pete
thought it would average eighteen cents

each of the nine baskets, thought how
much work had gone into them. The
cruelest, hottest work. I know. I tried it
once. Settin' it out, suckerin' it, worm-
in' it, toppil' it - it's all done when the
sun is the hottest. Allinto nine baskets,
and some of them pretty small.
It certainly wasn't the best tobacco.
There was a lot of green in it. "Got so
damned dry," Pete said, "I had to either
cut it or let it burn up. And then that
damned strippin' room was so dark me
and the boys couldn't find all them green
" "But it'll bring eighteen," I said.
"Sure ought to, with any kind of luck
at all. God damn," he said, "I've sold
tobaccy on this same floor for fifty and
sixty cents, 'when times was good."
Men began to come in through the
doors. "Buyers are a-comin'," they said.
-"They ain't very abxious to spend their
money, looks like."
Pete rolled a cigarette, fumbled out a
mnatch. "Wisht I'd have gotten my tobac-
cy up here last week. Market was good.
BC just my luck to run into these

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