The Second Big Lie of My Life
by Deb Parrish
Let me start by saying that lying is wrong. It is never the right thing to do. The Bible teaches us that it is wrong to lie. But we lie all the time and we think that we get better at it. I can remember it like it was yesterday the day I told my second big lie. My first big lie is another story for another time.
It was the summer of 1964 in Mississippi. The sun was hot and the air was heated with a breeze that only came every other hour. But, cotton was king in Mississippi and if cotton was king we were it subjects. Cotton screamed "pick me" and like loyal subjects we obliged it. Cotton at that time was picked the old fashion way by hand, by black hands.
My mother was a single parent at that time and she worked night and day to put food on the table for the five kids she had at home at the time; there are eight of us in all. There was my brother Johnny 16, my older sister Ree Ree 15; I was 13 going on 14, my younger brother Eric 10 and our baby brother Cal 5. My older brother and my older sister went to the field and they were able to bring in much needed money for our family. There was nothing extra about it.
Going to the 'field' was what teenagers did in the summer to make money. If your family had a farm you worked their farm. If not; you hired yourself out for the day for a day's wages; about $3.00 for a hundred pounds. You left early in the morning before light and returned home late at night in the dark.
My brother Johnny went with the 'guys' and my sister went with her girlfriends. Going to the field was a very sociable place to go for a teenager at that time. Relationships started and ended in the field.
One day my sister said that I could go with her. I was excited and relieved. Staying at home with our Mom all day was no picnic because she could see that you were not making her any money sitting at home doing nothing. She would work you non-stop.
I got up early and followed my big sister out to the bus. The driver would count off heads and once he reached his quota he would take off for the field for the day. The ride was cold and everyone was very quiet in the morning. No one did more that gave you a brief 'hello.' Once we got close to the field the driver would stop at a local grocery store so that we could get breakfast. There were no "Starbucks" or "McDonalds". You went in this store, white owners, of course, and bought yourself a hunk of cheese or hunk of bologna and you ate it with a soda pop. My sister got us something to eat and made her and me one sandwich each and she gave me a soda pop.
Then the driver would drive us to the field for the day. We would all pile off the bus and he would give us each a cotton picking sack. Then everyone would pick their row. The teenagers like to all get rows beside each other so that they could talk and make eyes at each other. The mamas would get rows near single men so that they could talk and make eyes at each others. Then the old women and slow picker, me included, would take whatever was left.
My sister told me, "you better pick 100 pounds today and I am not playing with you. Last time I brought you, you only picked 67 pounds. You better get 100 pounds today!!"
My sister and my brother were good cotton picker and that was no small feat. Picking cotton is hard work. You grab the soft cotton out of the bulb and your fingers can get cut, scratched and then they start to bleed. It is a skill to picking cotton. My brother could pick 300 pounds and my sister could pick 200 pounds. At that time 67 pounds was my best number.
So there I was with the old women talking about their babies and their men. Being in a field all day is tiring and the sun is very hot. You pray for a cloud to cover the sun for just a little while and you pray also for a short shower. I think never in life are you more closer to your slave ancestors than when you are working in the fields. You can feel the oppression and you begin to feel the depression of where you are and who you are.
Lunch time finally came; my sister brought me another soda pop and made me another bologna sandwich.
She asked me, "How you are doing?"
I told her, "I'm doing fine." For filling her obligation to feed me lunch she left me with one final warning, "Don't forget 100 pounds!"
She left to go back to her friends. I started back picking. I picked, and I picked; but my sack would not get full like everyone else. One woman had her baby with her and he was riding on her sack and her sack was full. I picked and picked; then the bus driver blew his whistle and it was all over. I looked at my cotton sack and I thought that now I know why some people put brick in their sacks.
They started weighing the cotton sacks and they would call off the weight, 350, 275, 225 175, and so on. My sister went up with her friends and her weight was 225. They all went in to the office to get paid. I was so glad that she left.
Finally it came time for me to weight my cotton sack. They placed the sack on the scale and the weightor looked at the sack and he looked at me. He called out 83 pounds! I said to myself 83 pounds? There must be some mistake. What am I going to do?
By this time my sister and her friends were on the bus. I went in to the office and got my pay for my 83 pounds and I went to my seat.
My sister came up to me and asked, "How did you do?" I said, "I did good."
She then said, "Well, how much did you pick?"
Right then I could have said 83 pounds. I could have been honest with her and just told the truth. I could have taken her criticism and all but no, not me. But, it seems that everyone on the bus was waiting for my reply. Was I going to become a card carrying member of the cotton picking club or was I going to be forever branded, "she can't pick cotton?" I didn't say anything for a second.
Then she asked me again, "Well?"
I said, "I picked 101 pounds."
That lie came out like it had a life of it own. It floated in the bus like a feather and the other people were saying that I did good. They knew that I could do it! They begin to praise me for my expertise in cotton picking. I said good, now can we go home. But, a lie has a tail that follows it like the tail on Hailey's comet.
"Let me see your money," my sister said to me.
It never occurred to me that the money and the cotton picked must agree. I held out my hand with my money on it.
She counted the money and shouted, "They short changed you."
Then the people on the bus said yes, the white man is trying to stick it to us again! Poor little innocent girl. Everyone on the bus was ready to go jump the white man. The whole bus was ready to march on the man's land.
I said, "Oh! That's OK don't worry about it."
But no, they edged my sister on to go get retribution for her poor little sister. I wanted to run and hide when my sister got off that bus and walked into that man's office and demanded the rest of her little sister's money. I just sat there with my head down.
After about six minutes my sister and the driver got back on the bus and we drove off. She turned to me and said, "You ain't never going with me again to pick cotton! Wait till I tell Mama what you did."
Then she told the whole bus that I lied and that I only picked 83 pounds. Everyone on the bus looked at me like was a leper. I looked out the window and I said I told you to leave it alone under my breath.
Since that day, I started going to field on my own. My friends and I talk and we have a good time all day. No I never reached 100 pounds but I had lots of fun. I have also tried not to lie but you know that's hard to do.