Walkin’ in High Cotton

My Generation

Illinois farm kids learn about cotton seed, but mostly how fun it is to play on.

Published on: June 7, 2010

I washed a load of jeans this morning. Here's what I found in the bottom of the machine:

That there, fellow Midwesterners, is a handful of cottonseed. It's technically referred to as fuzzy whole cottonseed. We don't see much of that around here. Like, none. And so when my little guys tagged along with me on a photoshoot last week to Steve and Phyllis Hess's dairy farm, they got to see baby calves. Which they've seen before. But they also got to see a bunch of fuzzy whole cottonseed. And climb on it. And jump in it, and slide down it and throw it. It was a snow pile in June. And in fact, Steve says his daughter routinely takes the sled out there, when the feed pile's a little bigger.

It goes without saying, this was the highlight of their day. They talked about cotton all day. And calves, but mostly cotton. They also had lots of questions about cotton, which I couldn't answer. "How do you plant it? How do you combine it?" They actually had way more specific questions than that and I had very generic answers, mostly referring back to that one internship I did with John Deere where they introduced a new cotton picker. We're a little provincial here in Illinois. I could share volumes of information about corn and beans. Cotton? Not so much.

The closest thing I've got is a story about showing cattle in southern Illinois 20 years ago with a Hereford family that did a little business with Randy Owen, of "Alabama" fame. The bull's name was High Cotton. They called him Cotton, for short. Maybe you've heard of the song? My younger brother was convinced that it was written for the bull, as opposed to the other (totally more obvious) way around. It also goes without saying that our other showing buddy and I spent entirely too much time arguing with him about it. "That song was out way before the bull was even born. And why would you write a song about a bull? That's so dumb. You're an idiot. And he's a Hereford bull. Like anyone would write a song about a Hereford bull. If you're going to write a song about a bull, at least make it about a good one. And the song's not even about a bull. Have you even listened to it? You're an idiot." Despite our very linear and compassionate argument, I don't think we ever convinced him.

But I digress.

Cotton? We don't know nothin' about cotton, except that it's fun to play on and Holsteins like to eat it. And it washes well. And famous country groups don't write songs about Hereford bulls.

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  2. Micki Lee says:

    Well, as a former cotton grower/cotton mound climber/ kid from the south with cotton seeds in every pocket, I must tell you that this is a slippery slope your children have started down. Before long, they will refer to distances as being "over yonder", they will undoubtedly utter the word "y'all, and eventually they will understand the difference between "y'all" and "all y'all"... and if they don't, just send them to me... I will be glad to teach them! I love this blog. I think you have just inherited a completely devoted reader. Way to go, Holly!

  3. C. Williams says:

    I liked this article. I learned about cotton through the girl i married, from NE Arkansas. I brought her back to Southern Illinois where her folks grew up. My wife was glad to get out of the cotton fields. Cotton is a very interesting crop. Our son enjoyed playing in the cotton seed when he was young and we visited my wife's folks. In fact, the little boys got run out of the cotton seed bin. Clark Williams, Metropolis, IL