“You know son, I guess I’ve gotta be one of the last walkin’ cotton-pickers left.” He stated quietly as if the realization just crept up on him. “Really”? I answered, caught a little of guard.
My dad went on to explain the details of some of his childhood that I’d never heard from him my entire life. I knew my dad was born to a poor sharecropper family in Arkansas. One of the first times I got in trouble at school was for making fun of another kid, my dad used some of his childhood memories to teach me one of many life lessons.
I was used to teasing and being teased by my big brothers and friends, it was a pretty tough area we grew up in. It seemed kinda natural to make fun of the kid in my class that ate baby food. He must have had something wrong with his stomach or something, but I didn’t bother to worry about that part of the equation.
I was only considering the laughing and having fun part, not the other people’s lives, feelings, and future impact I might have on one of them.
When word got back to my dad through the usual channels, he was not amused, to say the least, but he wasn’t angry. Even at a young age I could tell he was deeply disappointed. Enough time has passed for me to recognize that he was heartbroken by my actions. These kinds of acts were never part of my dad’s life, he was a champion of the weak or downtrodden.
It would take many of my dad’s stories about his life and experiences to teach a hard-headed son.
My dad didn’t even whip me for making fun of Ronald at school. You see I knew enough about my dad’s life from my brothers and uncles to know that my dad was a tough, strong man. He’d rescued his brothers on many occasions and I knew he’d boxed in the Air Force, to name a few of the stories I built the vision of my dad around.
That afternoon he took me into his room, this is where we’d sometimes get whipped for blatant disobedience. The lesson began–“Sit down son”… He began to tell me of his days in school as a kid about my age. My dad shared with me how there were many times in his school days that his family didn’t have enough money to buy him or some of his brothers shoes for school.
I was horrified. He shared with me how sad and heartbroken he’d been as a kid when the other kids would make fun of him for something he couldn’t do anything about at that age. My dad also told me how disappointed he was that one of his own children would make fun of another person the way the kids had made fun of him.
I was learning the other untold side of my dad and who he really was in heart and character. You gotta know by that point, as much as I hated getting whipped, it would have been way less painful than this lesson I was learning.
Whippings were a bit painful on the outside, this punishment was painful on the inside. I never cried as hard over punishment or groundings as I did that day. The next day when I apologized to Ronald I meant those words from the bottom of my heart.
I gotta give my dad credit, he taught me a good lesson. I never, ever made fun of anyone like that again. Oh, there were many more lessons for a kid like me to learn and it usually was the hard way, but not this lesson. This one I got.
I was proud to know and tell others that my dad was one of the last walking cotton-pickers. My dad and I talked about, and he carried that title of realization for about a year and a half after that… Now he’s gone…
I miss my hero, the last walking cotton picker… He taught me a lot…
I share his stories with my kids and friends to teach and inspire them and me to live a Godly and humble life like my dad did.
I’m honored to carry the title and share the memories of the last walking cotton-picker’s son…