Cutting Tobacco This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

April 18, 2017

Today is the day I become a man, Kent thought to himself.  Kent jumped out of bed and started his predawn chore: milk the cows.  While squeezing and pulling, squeezing and pulling, Kent mapped out each part of the day.  First, he’ll go with the family and cut tobacco, then he’ll camp at Sweetheart’s Hollow, the perfect day for a new man.   While planning, Kent jerked too hard on the pink udders, forcing an agitated moan out of the cow now standing dangerously over the nine year old boy.  Hearing his animal in distress, Father Mason yells at Kent to mind his work and hurry up.  It’s time to go.
Kent finished milking the cows and then climbed into the back of the family’s new Ford pickup.  The truck represented the value of tobacco farming.  Since the crop went well last year, Father purchased the new truck, paid off two year’s balloon mortgage, bought Mama a new dress, and bought Kent and Bret’s Christmas presents.  Sitting in the truck, Kent remembered scratching through a long, red wrapped gift to find a four-ten shotgun that Christmas. 
Kent and that shotgun went on many adventures into the mountains in the following months, especially to Sweetheart’s Hollow.  For Kent, mountains and forest hollows represented the freedom every boy needed for Appalachian living.  During the weekends, Kent spent his days hunting squirrel, climbing trees, and carving spears.  At nights, Kent slept on the thick blanket of moss that grew over a five-foot span in Sweetheart’s Hollow, moss softer than the smooth leather of the seat Kent currently rode on. 
A sudden bump awoke Kent from his daydreaming.  Kent looked up and saw his Uncles’ sitting trucks and tractor.  Once parked, Kent jumped off the pickup’s bed into the still dark earth.  Hopping with anticipation, Kent ran over to the field and saw the Uncles walking the rows and stabbing sticks into the red soil every six plants.  Not too long ago, Kent walked the same rows alongside the younger cousins.  They wielded pocket knives and cut the red flamboyant flowers that grew over the tobacco plants.  Now, the castrated tobacco plants drooped their leaves near the ground. 
As the Uncles finished placing the sticks, the sun’s fingers crept above the surrounding Smoky Mountains.  With the light as their start signal, Kent and all the Mason men started hacking at the plants.  All of Kent’s world focused on the one routine: grab, hack, hack a little more, place spear head on nearby stick, stab.  After every plant Kent popped his head above the rows and searched for a tall oak that stood at the end of all the field.   
Due to this being his first time cutting tobacco, and his incessant looking at the oak tree, Kent worked terribly slow.  Seeing his brother’s slow pace, Bret left his row to help.  In his peripherals, Kent saw his brother approaching to give him an embarrassing tutorial.  Kent didn’t need a tutorial.  He was a man, the same as Father and all the uncles in this field.  Kent’s face turned a dark shade of red when freckled Richard and cousin Tony started laughing at him.  They must think this work white eyed me, Kent thought.
Before Bret got far into the tutorial, Father called out,  “Bret, mind your own row.  Richard and Tony, do the same.”  During Kent’s snail speed struggle, Father completed one row and now worked the row next to Kent’s.  Working alongside Kent, Father said, “don’t mind anybody but your row.  Especially don’t look at the big oak at the end.  Kent, do you remember the teaching of  Moses leading the Israelites through the wilderness?”
“No sir,” Kent replied.
Dismayed at his son’s lack of holy knowledge, Father recounted the story. “Son, the Israelites traveled in the desert 40 years, a whole lot longer than you workin your row.  In that desert, Moses commanded the people to not worry about tomorrow and the Canaanites that needed whuppins.  No, Moses told them to look back and remember the great works of God that got’em there.  As for you, Kent, keep your eyes on what you’ve already done, the tobacco beside you, and work till completion.”
Kent listened and obeyed, but the work droned on.  Hours passed, and the sun disappeared. In an act of defiance against nature, the uncles turned on their tractor lights, and the work continued.  To Kent’s unbelief, the work finished.  In the toil that started at 6:30 am, and ended at 10:13 pm, Kent chopped down and speared two rows.  
Unable to remain in the field any longer, Kent sprinted toward the road.  Brother Bret yelled after Kent, but Father stopped Bret from setting chase.  Once on the road, Kent forced his legs to carry him as fast as a buck wanting to mate.  Kent ran two miles down the road then cut into the forest.  As if following a highway map, Kent turned left then right through tall trees and rocky tops.  After an eternity, Kent arrived at Sweetheart’s Hollow.  Like jumping onto a bed, Kent tripped on a rock and flew at the moss mattress.  While in the air, Kent realized that he still clutched the tobacco knife in his right hand.  The knife penetrated the loving earth, producing a soft slicing sound, and Kent’s blistered and sticky fingers dug into the moss.  Unable to stop his momentum, Kent slid down the incline that the moss rested on, and drugg the moss down with him.  After sliding down five feet, Kent looked at  a torn apart Sweatheart’s Hollow.  Seeing his beloved hideout desecrated, Kent wept.  No longer could Kent enjoy the hollow like he used to.  He was a man now, work tools slaying the heart of Kent’s childhood.   
 






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