Thursday, August 27, 2009

40 Acres and No Mule

I have been reading an incredible book called 40 Acres and No Mule by Janice Holt Giles. It was written in the late 1950's by a city woman who married a country man and moved to the hills of Kentucky. She candidly tells the story of her first year on the ridge and thoroughly explains some old fashioned ways of living and working. She was not a farm girl, but was turned into one. And parts of her always longed for the comforts that she knew were part of city life. But most of her knew that she really belonged among the simple, quiet country folk of Appalachia. She reminds me of myself in a lot of ways, but yet we are quite different. She worked side by side her husband, since they had no children together and they had no mule. So she was the mule, she was his help. And she learned how to really work. I still don't feel like I know how to really work. I want to, but I work at home, and if I didn't do that work we'd all be in a sad state of affairs. One day I hope to learn to drive a tractor, and one day I hope that I will be freed up to do some manual labor along side the farmer. It just changes your perspective on life when you actually work for a living.

One of my favorite parts of the book so far is when she tells the story of working in tobacco with Henry, her husband. They had already picked the leaves and hung them to dry in the barn. They spent a few months drying, and then the two of them had to tear the leaves by hand and stack them for more drying and eventually sale. It was cold, she felt inadequate to do the job, and she was tired. She made a remark under her breath to Henry, "If people knew how much work goes into raising tobacco, they'd appreciate their cigarettes and pipes a lot more." ....."Would they?" he asked back. They had a pretty true-to-today conversation then about what people appreciate and understand about the working folk that make their life possible. She then writes an awesome explanation of it all:
"Nothing is for free! Wool, cotton, meat, vegetables, metals, lumber, cars, radios...The list is endless. Nothing is for free. Back of all of them is a great, toiling world. Toiling for necessities, for commodities, for luxuries. But toiling. I toiled in tobacco. Perhaps you toiled in cotton, or sheep, or cattle. But whatever comes to each of us in the way of material things has back of it the toil and the labor of hundreds of people. When you light a cigarette, think of me! And I'll try to think of you when I put on my wool shirt, or set my dinner table."

Oh, but if more Americans thought of the toil. The toil behind the necessities, commodities, and luxuries...

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