A fresh breeze and the smell of tobacco

Published 6:19 pm Monday, September 28, 2020

The Roberson side of my family was raised on the Mill Road. My grandfather (Mr. Jim Roberson) decided to stay in the Old Ford community, thus my Mom and her siblings were raised “up the lane.”

My father spent his summers on the Terrapin Track Road with his grandparents and cousins. He had to work in tobacco like my mom did in Old Ford. I guess what I am trying to say is that somewhere there is some farming in my DNA, some place.

To this day, I have fond memories as a youngster of staying at Dad Jim and Mom Bert’s during tobacco season. Their home was located on a hill and had a wraparound white porch with a big oak tree in the front yard. Late in the afternoon, after the farm hands had taken a bath and had supper, they would gather under that big oak tree where the air seemed to be so fresh. Life in the country was good and the air had a refreshing smell to it.

Under that big oak tree, the farmhands would sing good old country gospel songs, and the breeze would blow in the best fresh air from across the fields. These farmhands lived on the lane, and they gathered every night to sing gospel music, without instruments or a hymnal. It came straight from the heart, and to this day, that is why I love good gospel music so much.

The days that we did not put in tobacco, the ladies would gather on the second floor of the pack house late in the afternoon and grade the tobacco. They kept the door open to get fresh air to circulate through the pack house, while they sat at the grading table and sang, maybe even tell some stories that may have been embellished.

After they graded the tobacco, it was time to wrap the leaves, a task in which they took great pride. Three leaves and a fourth to wrap the top is an art now forgotten. My mom was one of the best, and she never lost her touch because she was taught how to do it by some of the best. Music could be heard as the ladies would hum their favorite gospel songs and tell more stories that always fascinated a young boy like me. The breeze was always blowing, and the aroma from the fields, mixed with the smell of tobacco, was always so good in the pack house. Some nights, we would spend the night in the pack house with the doors left open to bring in the smell of fresh tobacco and fresh air coming across the fields.

You know, friends, working in tobacco taught me many lessons about hard work — you had to be up early to take a barn out and get the mules bridled up to pull the tobacco truck from the field to the shed. At lunch, we then hung a barn before we ever thought about eating and were back in the field by 1:30 p.m.

I can only wish that our kids today had the opportunity to put in tobacco like many of us did and learn the many lessons taught by a hard day’s work in the field. They might even learn to love good old country gospel music and the aroma of the air blowing across the fields — only in the country!

It breaks my heart to not see those golden leaves in the field as much as we saw when we were growing up. It provided us an opportunity to make some money and learn many lessons that have helped us all today. We are better people because of tobacco farming, and thank goodness for the large tobacco farmers in Beaufort County that carry on our tradition. You are some of the best!

The best of times with the best of friends and in the best of places, Washington, N.C.! The Original Washington!

— Harold Jr.

Harold Robinson Jr. is a native of Washington.