Gallatin News

Jack McCall: It’s easy to remember the hard work

A few weeks back I was on my way to an early morning appointment in a nearby town. I must say I was enjoying the absence of traffic as I sped toward my destination. Coming out of curves, I was fully accelerating in order to be on time. My vehicle seems unusually responsive.

As I rounded a turn in the road, I was suddenly met with a most familiar sight. A number of cars and pickup trucks were parked in an open field. And in the edge of a tobacco patch, a man stood tall on a flatbed wagon. Men and boys were handing sticks of yellow tobacco up to open arms.


I hit my brakes, and for a fraction of a second, I considered stopping and handing up a few sticks “just for old time’s sake.” My next thought was “Nah!” and I hit the accelerator.

This time of year, so many sights and sounds and smells take me back to the days when tobacco was king in this part of the world. I am not one to live in the past, but I find it refreshing to visit bygone days from time to time.

I was driving through a pasture last week and came upon a tangled mass of “yellow vine.” (Some folks around here call it “love vine.”) The sight of it surely took me back in time. Somehow that pesky parasite always found a way to wind up in our tobacco plant beds every year. I decided it must have been somewhere in the tobacco seeds. Every year, there it was.

My father believed in saving every tobacco plant. So, the yellow vine had to go. I have untangled plenty of yellow vine in my time and tracked it down to its host plant. Somewhere you could find it attached to the spongy stem of a plant, forming a slightly raised ridge. A pocketknife or the fingernail of your index finger was good for peeling off the ridge. Once done, the tobacco plant was as good as new. I can never remember “yellow vine” making it to one of our tobacco patches.

I love old barns, especially old tobacco barns. It makes me sad to see so many standing empty these days. Oh, the stories they could tell.   

A group of old tobacco “hands” were discussing “hanging” tobacco around the breakfast table at a local restaurant the other day.

One said, “The hardest job in the barn was ‘handing’ off the wagon because you had to handle every stick.”

“Or, working the bottom tier because you had to reach down, and hand up!” another chimed in.

“The easiest job was hanging in the top of the barn,” another added. “You only had to handle one out of every 4 or 5 sticks.”

“Yeah, but you had to deal with yellowjackets and red wasps in the top,” another said.

“It was ALL hard work!” said another.

“I hated it when the man hanging above was raining sweat down on me!” one declared.

“Me, too!” said one.

“Up in the barn, when the air was not moving, it was like being in an oven!” one remarked.

“Uh huh,” said another. “Remember how the tin roof would ‘pop’ on the hottest days?”

“I don’t miss them days!’ declared one who had been listening carefully.

“Me neither,” said one old timer in a low voice.

Frankly, I don’t miss the hard work. But I do miss the people with whom I worked, hand-in-hand. People who showed up on time and worked hard with no complaints.

I like to think those of my generation grew up in “a golden age.” Best we pass along what we learned to the coming generations.

Jack McCall is a motivational humorist, Southern storyteller and author.  A native Middle Tennessean, he is recognized on the national stage as a “Certified Speaking Professional.” He can be reached at Copyright 2023 by Jack McCall.

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