Cotton and Watermelon
The first time we were in Texas was in October just before I turned seven. We went there to pick cotton after my parents helped harvest the last of the walnut crop in California but before we went to Los Angeles. Living in a cotton field campground was not like orchard camps where finding tree shade was easy. It was hot, dry and the only shade was under the side-less pole barn where the cotton was pressed into bales. The canvas lean-to alongside our car gave relief from the sun but not the heat.
Like other migrant camps, there were kids with their field working parents. Those of us old enough picked along with adults. The picking bag had a strap to go over the shoulder and pickers dragged it between the rows. Kids and small women were given smaller bags but the process was the same as for men. Bolls were plucked from the bush and shoved into the bag.
Mother was small but she could drag a man size bag. When a bag was full or as heavy as one could pull, it was dragged to the supervisor, weighed and emptied. My back hurt and like other workers, my hands were cut from the sharp edges on the bolls at the end of a day in the field. The days Mother picked, I watched my younger siblings.
One evening a boy in the camp gave me my first taste of watermelon. A day or so later, he asked if I wanted to go with him after dark to get another melon. I thought we would be going to a store but I was wrong. He came to our camp site just as the sun light was fading away and we walked on a dirt road to a watermelon field a good distance from where we had picked cotton.
I thought nothing of going into the field because we often picked up culls to eat in the orchards. In the field, he showed me how to tap on a melon to tell if it was ripe. We were several yards away from the fence with our ‘free’ melons when I heard a yell. He dropped the melon he was carrying and ran. I followed. I heard a gun blast and dropped my melon.
I realized watermelons in a field were not culls for free picking.