The smell of tobacco curing in my neighbor’s barns brings back a lot of good memories from my childhood. I think back on the days when my siblings, my cousins and I spent our summers working on my grandparents’ farm.

My first jobs were at the barn (for which I was paid 35 cents per hour). By the time I was eight years old, I was working in the field. Our pay rose with our skill. I was making $2/hour when I finally was old enough to get a drivers license and the ability to take a fast food job in town. The minimum wage was $3.60/hour then–so along with my city job came a very nice raise. In the summer I worked both jobs. We were expected to pay for our own school books and clothes. That had been true for as long as I can remember.

Pulling tobacco (Steve Walton)

This isn’t me, but it could have been. It’s a friend of mine who lived on the farm next to ours. That’s his brother driving the tractor. Nowadays tractors have safety shutoffs that prevent the tractor from operating if there is no one sitting in the seat. But we couldn’t reach the pedals or see over the steering wheel if we sat down. Those shut offs aren’t designed for the way we worked back then.

A few days ago I posted my nostalgic comment about the curing barn smell on Facebook. I expected my childhood friends to agree with me. I was surprised at the reaction. Several were like this: “When I turned 16 I swore that I’d never work in a tobacco field again. I’ve kept that promise.” My friend in the photo is a high school teacher now. His comment on his photo was something like, “This is the reason I went to college.”

Well, I still look back fondly on those days. We worked hard, but we worked together as family. We learned a work ethic. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.

If our aging backs could stand it, I wouldn’t mind putting the old crew back together and trying to see if we could still do it.