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I remember a character in a book I must have read years ago who always read the obituaries to see if he was still alive.
I thought it was funny, especially since I never read the obituaries at that time in my life. Now I am sure to turn to that page in The Courier Journal every day, not to check on myself, but to check for folks I know. I have reached the age where I am aware of age. I even check the birthday column in the paper to see if there are actually celebrities older than I am. Then a friend reminds me, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” Much younger, I assure you!
I do enjoy writing about times gone by and think some of my experiences are shared by readers who grew up in small towns with family all around. Recently, I was reminded of the job I had each summer for four years while a student at the University of Kentucky. Sue Harris Scott and I were talking and discovered that we both worked at the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service office — I was in Grant County, she in Carroll — when we were young. I am certain there are lots of folks around who will know what I am writing about when I describe our job.
I worked at the ASCS office during the 60s. At that time, men (usually teachers who were off for the summer) and college or high school boys were sent out to the farms, armed with aerial maps that showed the locations of the tobacco fields planted on each farm, red pencils and measuring tools. These ‘reporters’ measured each patch and drew it on the map. The maps were then brought in to the office where a team of (in my case) three young women used a device called a planimeter to compute just how large the patch was.
In those days, a farmer’s tobacco allotment was measured in acres. Say my grandfather had an allotment of five acres of tobacco that he was allowed to raise and sell. If the computations done by the girls and double checked by our supervisor showed that he had planted six acres, one of his acres would have to be destroyed, though there was a tolerance of maybe three percent. Sometimes, the fellows in the field would discover hidden patches of tobacco that the farmer always swore were for his own use or denied knowledge of altogether. Most often when a farmer was over his allotment, he would complain loudly in the office that the field was not accurately measured. He could get a re-measurement, but he had to pay for it.
The saddest time came when the men who worked in the field had to return to destroy the acreage that was over the allotment. Invariably, a huge hail storm would come soon after the tobacco had been destroyed, but before it had been cut. I always thought that extra bit of tobacco being grown was there just in case of storms or hail damage.
In 1971, the system changed and allotments were given in pounds. That makes so much more sense to me. A farmer could raise 1,000 pounds, but if his allotment was 700 pounds, that was what he could sell. No destruction. And this is the best part — if he had a really good crop and was over his poundage, he could hold it for the next year, or have it for his personal use.
That was a fun job during those summers that seemed to coincide perfectly with my schedule. I had a couple of weeks off after classes were over at the beginning of the summer and the job ended just as it was time to return to Lexington. My very best memory of that time may be our afternoon breaks. Every day the girls and I would walk down the street to JB Miller’s Drug store with its wonderful soda fountain and his wife Edna Mae would make us a lime phosphate. JB was Williamstown’s very colorful mayor, but that’s another story. Thanks to Sue for helping me search the vaults for another good memory.
(Jarrett Boyd is a resident of Carrollton and the retired director of Carroll County Public Library.)