Four dollars a day

Published 4:11 pm Tuesday, July 30, 2019

One of the interesting agenda items for today’s politicians is the discussion over the minimum wage. They seem to have set the bottom hourly wage at $15. Since I’m a little “long in the tooth,” I don’t have a dog in that hunt.

At the same time, I think anyone who gets paid that much ought to be expected to earn it by working hard. That’s the way I was taught. Actually, your wages ought not to have anything to do with your quality of work.

When I began to work in agriculture, the wage was $4 per day. We began work at about 6:30 in the morning and worked until the job was finished, which was in the late afternoon. We got an hour off for our tomato sandwich or Vienna sausages, whichever delicacy we happened to have for lunch that day.

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The work was outside and it was hot. Many people seem to think that the temperature these days has gotten hotter than way back then. That could be true, but some of those days 60 years ago seemed to be about 90-95 degrees and that was in the shade. As I step outside these days in the same sort of heat, I wonder just how we did it!

The work was not just hot and hard, farm work was pretty nasty. By that I mean, at the end of the day, a good trip to the creek served two purposes. One, the cool, clear and running water was quite refreshing. Two, a bar of Lava soap in the creek rubbed most of the dirt off. Anybody remember gritty Lava soap?

I worked about four days a week in tobacco. That work started in June and lasted until the end of July. There were two days with my aunt and uncle on their farm and two days on ours. I got paid for the two days of work away from our farm, but daddy didn’t pay me for the two days we worked in our fields.

At least he didn’t pay me in money. He figured room and board were pretty high wages and, guess what? I didn’t go on strike.

When I worked in someone else’s field, I got paid. Hallelujah! I could hold out my hand with the best of them as my aunt counted out four crisp dollar bills. She wrung every one of those singles dollar bills backwards and forwards just to make sure there weren’t two of them stuck together. That never happened.

I was proud of those wages and didn’t know any different. There was a special place that I kept my savings and I think I counted it every day.

At the end of the season, my moneybag might have $100 in it. School started after Labor Day back then and around mid-August, momma would take me to Moultrie to the Belk-Hudson store or J.C. Penney to buy “school clothes.” What a greatly anticipated day that was.

Since I had earned the money, momma let me buy what I wanted. We called them dungarees, but they were really Levi blue jeans. There was no such thing as five varieties and certainly no pre-washed and worn-out looking jeans. No holes in them. It would take many washings for the jeans to get “right,” and the holes in the knees were earned.

A few new t-shirts and socks, a pair of US Keds, some new underwear and my hard-earned money was gone. It’s amazing how much joy I received from knowing I had bought my own school clothes. I think those were truly “the good ole days!”