Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Life of Cotton

If I ever write my autobiography, the first line will be, “My earliest memory is of cotton.”  My playpen was in the front room of a cotton gin office.  I knew the farmers who brought their cotton to my dad’s gin so well that I thought of all of them as my “uncles.”  I always loved the clink-clank sound made by the big black weights of the old manual scale when a trailer load of cotton pulled over the deck.  When I heard that sound, I knew one of my “uncles” was about to come in and if I was lucky, they would buy a 5 cent soft drink in a thick green glass bottle from the old red soda machine and give me the first sip.
The Paymaster Gin in Ackerly that  was ran by my Grandpa Earl, about 1956
The Paymaster Gin my Dad ran in Brown, about 1959

The new Paymaster Gin my Dad built between Ackerly and Brown, about 1966
My Grandpa, Earl Brasher, was a cotton gin manager from the 1920's.  My Dad, Dan Brasher, was the youngest gin manager that Paymaster had ever hired when he became the manager of the Brown Gin at 21 years old in 1956.  Being the daughter of a second generation cotton ginner, and now married to a multi-generational cotton farmer, I consider the excitement of that first load of cotton as the beginning of the best time of the year, time to harvest and gin cotton! The local newspapers will run a little story each year of the farmer who harvests the first bale of cotton in the county, sometimes with a photo of the farmer and ginner standing with the actual bale of cotton.  I can't seem to find it, but I remember my Dad standing beside one of his smiling farmers in one of those little newspapers.
My Dad playing in front his his Dad's gin in Truscott, Texas, about 1945

Me and my little sister, Cindy, playing in front of our Dad's gin, the Ackerly-Brown Gin, about 1968

Growing up on my Dad's gin yard is about as good as it gets when you are a kid.  There were endless places to play hide and seek up and down the rows of cotton trailers and bales of cotton. Later, much to my Dad's dismay, those same places made for great motorcross trails for a bunch of Junior High kids on dirt bikes! While rummaging through the old photos, I came across a letter of reference for my Grandpa Earl.  Seems he was a mighty good gin manager back in the early 30's. 
Part of a letter about my Grandpa Earl from 1931.

Me and my Grandpa Earl about 1961
My seasons are not marked by a calendar, but by watching all the different colors that paint across the fields of cotton throughout the year.  Bright crayon green as it peeks up out of the ground in the spring.  Soft butter yellow flowers that turn baby girl pink, then just briefly a gem stone purple before falling off as it produces the boll in the summer.  Deep olive green and rusty red leaves as fall approaches.  Crispy brown and bridal gown white as the bolls pop open to dry in the sunshine, waiting for the best time of the year, time to harvest and gin cotton.  I have been wrapped in the the fabric of our lives quite literally my entire life, and what a beautiful, colorful life it is.

Since this is for Father's Day, here are a couple more photos of my Dad.  He was not just a gin manager, he loved big trucks and fast race horses too!  Make sure to listen to this link for a great song from my son, Billy Dan Langley, singing about Paymaster with a video showing some great footage of my Dad's gin and a community cotton harvest he organized for a friend fighting cancer:  Workin' for the Paymaster  

*Adapted from a blog I wrote for my friend Janice Person on A Colorful Adventure.
Dad finally got his own big truck to haul the cotton bales to the compress, 1980

One of Dad's horses, Ka Cee Bim, in the winner's circle at Sunland Park, 1981