From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Fired from the Peanut Patch

The sweet remembrance of the just shall flourish when he sleeps in dust.

Nahum Tate

I had no idea how to “shake” peanuts, nor did I care. At ten years old I was just happy to get away from the house and not have to scrub dirty, bug-infested fruit jars for Mama’s canning.

After a half-mile walk, my brother, Jimmy, a year and half my senior, and I arrived at the peanut patch. I don’t know what I expected, but whatever it was it didn’t match what I saw. There were vines crawling all over the ground. The attached peanuts were covered with clods of dirt and provided homes to numerous insects and spiders.

Jimmy had worked in the field with my father and older brothers before, so he came prepared with a pair of heavy work gloves. I, on the other hand, brought nothing except my lunch—a cold, scrambled-egg sandwich and a fruit jar filled with ice water. After the owner guided us to a patch of the field, Jimmy dug his hands into the dirt and shook the daylights out of the peanut vines. I watched and frowned then shook a vine gingerly, getting a face full of dirt.

By noon, it was obvious to Mr. McElhannon that I was not an asset to his peanut patch so he sent me to his cotton field another half-mile down the road where I was handed a tow sack with an attached strap. I looped the strap over my small body and began plucking the soft, white cotton from the hulls. The sun was scorching hot, and the thought of washing fruit jars at home didn’t seem all that bad anymore. The rough bag still held a strong aroma of seed or feed, which, I was not sure.

Finally, it was quitting time, and I weighed in my little bag of “fluff.” The woman placed two coins in my hand. I stared in disbelief. I had worked all day and earned only two cents. I left the cotton field and trudged up the dusty road to the little country store where I was to meet my brother and my father. I was tired, thirsty and humiliated.

Jimmy met me at the door while swigging down an ice-cold bottle of Royal Crown Cola, which he paid for with his earnings. I didn’t even have a nickel for a bottle of pop. Jimmy bought one for me. Suddenly, I saw Daddy’s pickup and watched as he got out, walked up to the store and pulled open the squeaky screen door. Jimmy ran to show him how much money he had made. I held back. Finally, the inevitable question came.

“How much money did you make, Sis?” Daddy asked.

I stared down at my dirty shoes, then brought my hand from behind my back and opened it to show him my two pennies. Tears pricked the backs of my eyes when I told Daddy about my day. I was certain he would be mad, but instead he roared with laughter and pulled me to his side. Then he turned to the other men in the store.

“Hey, listen to this. Louise worked all morning at McElhannon’s peanut patch. He fired her without pay then sent her to the cotton field where she worked all afternoon and was paid only two cents.” Everyone agreed that was a lot of work for such a meager amount of money. Daddy hugged me even closer. He was actually proud of me. Proud of my efforts and tenacity.

I learned a lot about my father that day and in the following years. As I grew up, Daddy demonstrated his love in a multitude of ways. He cheered me as I played basketball, watched with pride when I graduated as valedictorian of my senior class, and even appeared unannounced at my college dormitory to take me home when he missed me.

He delighted in lavishing love on my children with rocking horses, silver dollars and precious lullabies. He cried with me when my husband was overseas and stood by my side at the grave of my young son.

Throughout his life, Daddy remained my hero, blessing me with love, laughter and song. He gave me a heritage of hard work along with a strong faith in God. And though he never once told me his philosophy of life, I began to understand it at that little country store, over forty years ago, when I was fired from the peanut patch.

Louise Tucker Jones

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