Cotton Pickin’, Eggs and Cash
In those “good ole days” money was a scarce commodity. Most farmers didn’t hire field hands. They put their kids to work.
I was the last of eight kids who grew up on a cotton farm in Western Oklahoma. My parents struggled to rear their offspring during some tough times: the 1930s Depression, its evil twin, the Dust Bowl, WWII and an epic 1950s drought. Both out of necessity and by design, they used these difficult circumstances to teach us the value of time and money – in short, how to be fiscally conservative.
In those “good ole days” money was a scarce commodity. Most farmers didn’t hire field hands. They put their kids to work. When we enrolled in primary school, our father also introduced us to the cotton patch. It wasn’t slave labor or child abuse. He paid us a wage commiserate with our ability to do field work, but there was a catch. Each autumn, our mother took the younger kids to JC Penney to buy school clothes. Fifty percent of the clothing tab – the catch – was deducted from our cotton patch earnings. Anything left over, we could spend as we wished. I can’t speak for my siblings, but that 50% obligation focused my mind on how much I spent on school attire. It also taught me to carefully monitor other spending habits at a young age.
I also had other duties when not toiling in the cotton fields. These chores included milking a couple of cows, filling hay cribs for the rest of the herd, slopping hogs, pumping fresh water for my mother’s kitchen, and tending to the chickens– including securing their roost each evening to ward off night-prowling varmints. My reward for these tasks was the week’s accumulation of “surplus” eggs – a commodity that I exchanged for cash at the local produce store.
All eggs not required by my mother for the family’s breakfast or for my sisters’ desserts, were mine to keep. Once I stowed an egg in my crate, no one dared touch it but me. This egg business also taught me the rudiments of negotiation – with the produce store egg buyer and with my pesky sisters regarding their egg consumption. They deliberately tormented me about my hoarding tendencies – ordering extra eggs for breakfast or inventing fictitious recipes that required prodigious quantities of egg whites or yolks. These loving but mischievous sisters seldom followed through with their schemes, but only after some serious negotiation with their little brother. I usually ended the week with a tidy number of eggs.
Those produce store visits exposed me to more than swapping eggs for cash. My first duty was to check the store’s chalkboard for that day’s egg quotes, frequently a stomach-churning experience. I quickly learned that selling a commodity could be a risky endeavor. In hindsight, my common-sense father exposed me to these elementary business skills for good reason. To this day, I appreciate his simple but effective lessons in personal finance – and my mother’s insistence that I open a savings account at the local bank into which I made a weekly deposit before a single penny of egg money could be spent elsewhere.
Trading my time for money and having to pay for essentials (clothing) before spending a penny for pleasure introduced financial habits that would stick with me throughout life. Equally important was the discipline learned by opening and depositing money into that tiny savings account every week – money untouched and earning interest until I left home for college years later.
Stay tuned. I’ll get to what this blog is all about very soon.