Cotton, peanuts and a church picnic

Published 10:43 pm Saturday, September 25, 2010

I found myself sitting at a picnic table at a home along the banks of Chuckatuck Creek in Eclipse on Saturday, enjoying a good, old-fashioned potluck with friends and fellow members of the choir from my church, Portsmouth’s Bethany Baptist Church.

Many years ago, when I was a boy and the church operated an elementary school on its premises, I was a student there, and a few years back — when I felt God drawing me back to his bosom from the dark space where I had led myself — I found my way back into Bethany’s sanctuary, where there were plenty of kind, loving, godly people eager to help me grow in my relationship with the Lord.

Our choir tries to hold a summer picnic every year, and it always seems to fall on a day when I have to be at work, so my visiting time is usually limited. Saturday was no exception, but I still managed to find a half hour or so to sit and chat with some new friends from Suffolk.

Among the topics of our discussion was the striking cotton crop that has come into season along Crittenden Road and throughout Suffolk. All around the city, fields are white with the “summertime snow” of perfect cotton bolls nearing maturity. Some farmers who planted earlier than others have already prepared their crops for harvest, and as I drove back to the office, I passed the first cotton module mover of the season. It was empty, but the sight of it reminded me that we’ll soon see scores of cotton modules waiting to be moved as the area’s cotton gins ramp up production.

While talking about the cotton crop, we all recalled the days when Suffolk’s fields at this time of year were instead full of peanuts growing to maturity and waiting to be dug, turned over and dried prior to the harvest. There’s nothing quite like the smell of a freshly dug peanut field, but it’s an odor that is more and more a memory as area farmers switch over to soybeans and cotton. Everything changes, of course, and the man who can’t come to terms with that fact lives a miserable life. But I miss the peanut harvest.

Thinking of all that, I turned to my mother, who happened to be at the picnic as well, and laughed at myself over the discussion. I’d just spent 20 minutes talking about peanut quotas, boll weevils and the finicky nature of field corn as if I were an Extension Service expert, yet I couldn’t grow a geranium if you came and watered it for me. The dying plants in my office can attest to that fact.

Writing about agriculture in Southside Virginia for more than 20 years sometimes makes me feel like a cocktail-hour expert on the subject. By that I mean — as I explained on Saturday — that I know a little bit about a lot of things, but not a lot about much. I can sound like I know what I’m talking about for a few minutes of polite banter, but then I have to hurry away before I’m discovered as an imposter.

One thing I know for sure, though. I do miss the smell of peanuts drying in the fields on a cool fall evening. It smells like home to me.