tobacco is monotonous work, but most people who do it seem to like it. The
monotony of the work is easy to see. Understanding why the work is
gratifying is not so apparent.
Once tobacco has hung in the barn to cure for a couple
of months, it is taken into the stripping room, a small building usually
attached to the tobacco barn. The individual tobacco leaves are stripped
off the stalks, then they are put in a press to be baled for market. It
is the same repetitive handwork, hour after hour, day after day, usually
For all that, the stripping room is a sort of community
center. There are no strangers in the stripping room; and as the day
goes by, there aren't many secrets, either. Conversation is almost
continuous, joking, gossiping. There usually is a radio tuned to a
local station. A wood or coal stove burns to keep out the late autumn
chill. Neighbors stop by from time to time just to see what's going
on, to talk, and maybe to help out. Many times, entire families work
in the stripping room; it's something young and old can do together.
The stripping room in the photo above is at Ray Brewer's
barn. That's Ray, at right. He told me that for years his family
would spend every Thanksgiving Day stripping tobacco, then go home at dusk
for the big annual supper.
The man at left is Wayne Ethington, Ray's brother-in-law.
On the day this picture was taken, November 23, the conversation had
moved to talk about President Kennedy's assassination. Wayne said he
was stripping tobacco on November 22, 1963, and heard on a radio in the stripping
room about the President's death.
The man in the center of the picture is Earl Fortner,
a longtime friend and coworker of both Ray and Wayne. All three of
these men are in a photograph on this website from September 4, 2001, where
they are resting after cutting tobacco.
here to see that picture.