The Good Old Days

Reading about regulations intended to prevent children from being exposed to agricultural toxins (HERE) brings back memories of my childhood, when that either wasn’t an issue or if it was the concern hadn’t reached this deeply into the country.

I was probably about seven years old when I first began “dusting” the garden. Our mother would send us out with a five gallon bucket, with Sevin dust in it, and an applicator she made out of old panty hose. The hose were tied at the bottom and we’d scoop out the dust (with our hands, as I recall) and put in in from the top. Walking down the row of vegetables we’d hold the hose/dust over a plant then “pop” it, lifting then jerking down suddenly, sending a coat of dust through the hose and onto the plants. Protective gear? I would be barefoot and wearing nothing but a pair of cut-off shorts.

Even worse, I imagine, was what we did in the tobacco fields, from when I was old enough to reach the top of a plant. When the plants began to bloom it was time to top them. So we’d walk down the rows, breaking out the tops. To prevent suckers we squirted some kind of poison out of oil cans or poured it out of plastic jugs, which we filled from a barrel at the end of the row. We’d squirt or pour the stuff onto the top of the stalk so it would run down the sides. Us kids would do this job barefoot, but because the black gum on the surface of tobacco leaves would stick to your hair and body (and was very difficult to remove) we had to wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and a hat. Topping happens on hot humid summer days and the smell of the chemicals was powerful and unsettling. I can only imagine how much of that stuff I must have breathed in.

Nowadays when I see the Mexican work crews wearing face masks in tobacco fields I have to smile. Times have changed.