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Taking stock from cotton

The White Sea stretched almost as far as I could see. Over the hills and along the edge of the woods, the white stalks stood tall, without a single leaf, with the wide open cotton boles shining in the sun.

It was 45 years ago when I last picked cotton by hand. Actually, it was the only time I ever picked cotton by hand. I rode my bicycle out to the home of my childhood friend, Peggy Phillips, who lived about a mile out of town. When I got there she had to pick cotton, so I joined in. It wasn’t as much fun as it looked like.

The field wasn’t more than an acre. It was less than the size of our lawn. Yet, picking that cotton and putting it into a sack made the rows seem like they went on forever. The only thing that compared was the peanut rows that we had to hoe by hand.

When I moved to Georgia, there wasn’t much more cotton being planted than there was in Cottonwood 45 years ago. The year after I arrived, there was none. Cotton took a long hiatus here in Southwest Georgia until the rise of the all cotton shirt, improved chemicals, irrigation, and state-of-the-art gins.

When I look at the cotton fields now, I wonder if anyone could have ever picked such large fields by hand. Hundreds of acres stretch in every direction. It is the only crop in my lifetime to rival the peanut as a provider of income for the farmers of this area.

It isn’t just the crops that have changed. This week I became Facebook friends with several of my old colleagues from the General Assembly. When I first went to Atlanta, each bill to be discussed was put into an enormous book on my desk.

There was a small army of people of that came into the chambers each night and took out the bills that had been disposed of that day before replacing them with the bills yet to be debated. Every now and then, I would go by the chamber at night and see these people busy at work. It wasn’t much different than how a cotton field must have looked with dozens of workers a couple of generations ago.

While I was in Atlanta, computers replaced the books on our desks. Just as some fought the mechanization of the cotton harvest, there were many legislators that fought the use of computers. Some of those same people are now on Facebook.

Almost 10 years after I left the legislature I still treasure the friendships that I made while in Atlanta. It is interesting that while I came to detest the process, I still cherish many of the people that were involved in that same process. I am thankful that I had a chance to be a part of a system of governance that doesn’t always work, but is still the best that our world has ever seen.

The truth is I am thankful for a lot of things. This next week I will travel to a part of the world that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Because of that, I want to give you the list of the things I am thankful for today.

I am thankful I don’t have to pick cotton by hand for a living. I am thankful and hopeful that I will be known for being more than just a politician. I am thankful that I live in Southwest Georgia and am thankful for all those people who have supported me over these many years.

I am thankful that I have two wonderful daughters and two great sons-in-law. I am even more thankful that they have given me two wonderful grandchildren, Henry and Laura. I am thankful for a great dog, Harry, and a good cat, Wills, who is lucky to be alive after clawing my new leather chair and the seats in Mary Lou’s new car.

I am thankful for my sister and brother, and their spouses, and especially my extraordinary nieces and nephews. I am thankful for those many loyal employees who have helped our company grow over the years.

I am thankful for my mother and my in-laws and for all of our extended family. I am thankful for those that went before us and whose memories still sustain us.

I am especially grateful for my wife, Mary Lou, who has stood by me in ways that only I will ever know. We are best friends, spouses and parents, but so much more.

I am thankful for the many friends that have crossed my path. Those I met in high school and college, in business, and at the coffee shop. I am thankful for the two ladies that cut my hair, the nurses and doctor that I see each month, the couple that spent dozens of Friday nights on our patio, and the friends that have moved away.

I am thankful for a church that sustains me and my family. I am thankful for each of the ministers that have touched my life along the way. I am thankful for the music that is part of my life and for the chance for that to be part of my own ministry.

I am thankful for a chance to write and share my thoughts with people through this column. I am thankful for their responses, e-mails and letters.

This is a tough world we live in. It is easy to focus on all the burdens we have in our lives. Wars, sickness, poverty and drugs, combined with our economic problems can make it hard to see what we have to be thankful for.

Drive out to a cotton field. Stop and look at the beautiful sea of white. Reflect on what is good in your life. Next Thursday, give thanks to God for your blessings. It is a uniquely American holiday, but the blessings belong to you.