It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that sight. Too long to be honest. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time. Or anything that came close. Like a black and white photograph from a bygone era. Too distant to believe, but close enough to not be able to appreciate the full value. It could be. It isn’t though. Not in any way. I could go on about anything, or nothing in particular. This isn’t anything, and in all certainty it isn’t nothing. It’s something you remember from childhood. You don’t realize it so much then, or now either. A random thought you stumble across and makes you go back in time. Strange the way those things work.
I’m from a little town called Abingdon. Most people have never heard of it, and that’s fine. It doesn’t bother me any. Abingdon is in the southwest part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Don’t call it a state, it’s a commonwealth. A common area, at least around here in the neighboring states. Northeast Tennessee. Western North Carolina. Eastern Kentucky. Southern West Virginia. All the places look the same. There’s a big difference in the scenery. It’s an omission all the places share. I can speak for one, well two of the locales mentioned. So I will.
I feel like some kind of old timer writing this. It has a real “well, back in my day” tone. I’m not old, and I’m not 37. Monty Python fans should understand and if you don’t go watch The Holy Grail. Sometimes you have entertain yourself. Anyway, I’m in my early 30s. I’m not talking about this building used to be this. Or that store wasn’t there. Or the speed limit used to be whatever. I’m writing about a scene, a natural one for the area.
That scene isn’t here anymore. I don’t recall when it vanished. You notice one day when you’re out and about driving around. I make it sound simple. It isn’t. There’s so much more to this than what you take at face value. Politics. Economics. A way of life, and the people who lived it going back for generations. I don’t know what they do now, but it isn’t what they used to. If they even bother to try. I know what they aren’t doing. They aren’t growing tobacco.
Yes, that’s what this whole piece is about in a way. I’m sure many people are happy that less tobacco is grown. Not in this area, but the entire country. I’m not getting into all the health stuff. I’m not getting into all the additives. I’m not going to defend or persecute “Big Tobacco”. All I want to do is describe a scene I used to see every summer when I was growing up. I can’t take a picture. It doesn’t exist anymore. Maybe I can find one to go along with this piece, but it wouldn’t be the same.
When I was a young boy anywhere that a person could grow tobacco, they did. There was no need for a big plantation. A pasture, or a sizable field of any kind. I knew many people who grew. It would grow in the summer, then cut down and hung in to dry in the fall. That’s when you’d see an influx of Mexicans. Migrant farmers coming through to help with the harvest. After it was over they’d move farther north. You don’t see them around here anymore either. There’s no reason for them to stop through. There’s no money in growing anymore, which means not as many people do. People don’t need as much help.
We’d ride down a back road on the way to where we’d swim. There was a field along the way, right next to the road. It had a fence surrounding it, an old wooden one. Between the posts were beams of wood that made an X. It wasn’t to keep anything in or out, more like a property line. Inside it was full of short green plants. Tobacco isn’t brown until it’s dried out. That was just one example, they used to be all over.
Now it’s a memory. There are a few reminders left. The empty fields for one. I’ll pass them and think of what I used to see. If my wife is with me I’ll point out what used to be. The barns are still around where the tobacco leaves hung to dry. They look like burnt out bunkers after a war. More a corpse than an actual building. How they still stand is beyond me. Maybe they feel they have to if they can. They need to. They’re all that’s left.