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.

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19 comments on “The Good Old Days

  1. hilarymb says:

    Hi Bill – yes when we didn’t have cares … and well our parents thought things were safe – sadly I suspect many of us did too … though now we’re more careful – the youngsters … sometimes I wonder. Cheers Hilary

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    • Bill says:

      There were many such things, weren’t there? We never wore seat belts. We played with dangerous toys. Some of the jobs I used to do on the farm probably aren’t even legal for adults to do anymore.

      Like

  2. Ed says:

    It’s a wonder we all didn’t die young!

    I’m a bit younger. The Sevin I applied came in a can with holes in the top for applying it.

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    • Bill says:

      It is indeed a wonder. Thinking back on my mother’s panty hose dusters, I think we just put the dust into the hose and “popped” it out the “feet.” Crazy.

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  3. I’m as much against all the -icides as anyone, but I have to say, my grandfather sprayed our orchard trees from the 50s to the 70s with all that horrible stuff, and he lived to be 98….
    Must be genes? Or maybe the earth wasn’t yet saturated with the toxins? I don’t know…

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    • Bill says:

      I don’t know either. My grandfather lived a good long life too, but he did have problems with his hands in this later years and I wondered if they were caused by handling chemicals.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. shoreacres says:

    This is completely unrelated, but I keep thinking about it and forgetting to tell you. Last Saturday, the you-pick-it farm I go to every year had an interesting morning. They had the Galveston chapter of the Texas Master Gardeners out to the farm. They were available to explain the crops being grown, but also to answer people’s questions. Folks having trouble with one plant or another, or having questions about fruit trees — whatever — had plenty of time to talk with a whole crew of experts who were there just to help

    I didn’t go, because I don’t garden, but I thought it was a wonderful idea, and I’ve heard really good feedback. Here’s the link to your Master Gardeners, solely for convenience. I’m sure you’re well aware of them.

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    • Bill says:

      They set up a table every week at our farmer’s market to answer questions. As I understand it, there is a public service requirement for membership in Master Gardeners. I love that part of their mission is to help others garden better.

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  5. Annie says:

    Your mother was indeed clever to create a hose duster. We used the hand pump contraption that created a dust cloud, too. Maybe the worst thing all the kids did was chase the mosquito truck on our bikes and delight in becoming enveloped in the billowed smoke behind the truck. I wonder if it was DDT. Cough….

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    • Bill says:

      Oh my goodness. I’d forgotten that. I lived in Belle Glade Florida until I was six years old and a truck would come down the road spraying DDT out of a long pipe across the back. We’d chase the truck too! There’s no telling how much DDT I breathed in. Shaking my head.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Scott says:

    Don’t worry, Bill… The kids nowadays will have plenty of chemicals and practices to look back on and marvel at. We think we’re pretty clever now… folks did back then, too…

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    • Bill says:

      No doubt. Still it amazes me how little awareness we had of the dangers of those kinds of things back then as compare to now. I do wonder what our kids will look back on in amazement some day.

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  7. Laurie Graves says:

    So far you’ve dodged the bullet, so to speak. May your luck continue!

    Like

  8. NebraskaDave says:

    Bill, almost every farmer that I know from those beginning days of “Farm Better Chemically” has had serious cancer issues. There’s always exceptions but a high percentage of them didn’t make it past their 60s. Still today 24D is used for weed control on farms. It can’t be used on edible crops and still to this day, the smell of 24D spray brings back some wonderful uncle’s farm memories. It was a great time in my life and I did do a lot of crop spraying. So far nothing serious has come of it. God’s protection, I guess.

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    • Bill says:

      I’m glad we’re doing better now. When Cherie was growing up in Los Angeles they would often have “smog alerts.” On those days recess wasn’t allowed because the air was too toxic. She rarely saw the mountains in her childhood and now they’re visible all the time, thanks to lead-free gasoline. We dodged a lot of bullets as Laurie says. But as Scott points out, we’ve probably just substituted one set of toxins for another. We’ll see.

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  9. BeeHappee says:

    Interesting stories, Bill.
    Back then, kids were the applicators, now they are the consumers, machines and Mexicans spray and children eat it. We cover millions of acres of lawns in herbicides and then place our babies to crawl on them. Not much has changed. Even with materials that had been blatantly proven to be extremely damaging.
    In the old country, they used to send us kids out to apply chemical fertilizer to the feed beets. The large field of beets that fed all the pigs had to be fertilized for some reason with the pellet fertilizer, so they’d give us buckets half way filled with them, and with bare hands we would drop a handful on each plant. Gloves, what gloves? Barefooted also. I remember playing with little pellets and liking the crunch of them.
    The house would fill up with flies on the farm quickly. Once every week or two, grandpa would close all doors and windows, and would spray some fly killer all through the house. We would wait outside, until all flies were dead, and then they would open the windows for a few minutes before letting us in, but there was still that noxious smell of the chemical lingering…. Now I feel bad thinking of grandpa who sprayed himself there with those dying flies.

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    • Bill says:

      We did that too! We called it “top dressing” the tobacco and the gardens. Pellets of fertilizer (10-10-10) in 5 gallon buckets. We’d just reach in, grab a handful and drop it by the plant. That was a child’s job. No gloves, no shoes and (for the boys) no shirts.

      I have a vague recollection of my grandma having a “Raid” sprayer with a pump. In our house we just used flyswatters. 🙂

      Like

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