November filled with tobacco memories
By Paula Clark

Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM

November's arrival brings chilly mornings with the promise of warmer afternoons, painted landscapes in hues of yellow, red, and orange, and the familiar sight of smoke drifting from tobacco barns--all three turns me a tad nostalgic because it's the beginning of  tobacco stripping season in southern Kentucky. 

As a child, the tobacco barn was a familiar place for me. Either I was playing in the dirt, sleeping on a settee in the stripping room, or roaming among the books of tobacco. When the fire died down in the stove, my dad sent me to the coal pile to get more coal –my imagination thought of it as foraging for coal. As I grew, my jobs increased. The first job for my little hands was gathering the trash leaves under the table and handing them to my dad to tie; then later, I learned to string the green leaves on baling wire. Other tasks included carrying the hand-tied tobacco to my dad so that he could book it (carefully stacking it on a tobacco basket). As a teen, I stripped the leaf and hand tied it, and eventually, I learned to help book the tobacco. 

Today, all I have to do is close my eyes, and I am transported back to the stripping room. I smell the pungent tobacco, the coal-fired stove, and a simmering pot of beans. I hear the background noise of the radio tuned to the local news, the grain market report, and country music. Also, I hear the slap of the barn’s door as it closes for a welcome interruption of a neighbor’s visit or a salesman who dropped by to peddle insurance or Bibles.

This era has almost ended. With the tobacco buyout, few tobacco patches dot the landscape. Back then for many farmers, the tobacco crop was necessary because it provided money for Santa to buy those wishes from the Sears Christmas catalog, to pay the state and federal taxes, to add a little bit more to the collection plate, and as in my case, to pay for a daughter's college education.

As seasons go, eventually winter will bring blankets of snow, spring will spurt tulips, and summer will blossom. Then, October will slide into November, and once more my memory will transport me back to those stripping-tobacco times. 


Paula Clark grew up in the fertile farming area along the Logan-Simpson county border. She and her husband Ray live in Russellville. She teaches in the Butler County School System.

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