On keeping the kids out of tobacco fields

May 31, 2014 

Erick Garcia, 17, of Kinston, recently spoke a parable.

In an Associated Press story about children working in tobacco fields, he was quoted as saying that working in tobacco is inhumane. Since he was 11, he has been working in tobacco to help his family financially.

Erick, I used to tell my Dad the same thing, perhaps not in those exact words. He would only laugh and say, “Boy, get your tail back out there suckering that tobacco!”

The Human Rights Watch, an international organization concerned with child labor abuses, is pushing legislation that would get youths like Erick out of those tobacco fields for good. The organization is concerned about long hours worked and contact with chemicals used in growing tobacco.

In 2011, the Labor Department proposed changes that would have kept children under 16 from working on tobacco farms. You can imagine how far that got.

Kentucky state Sen. Paul Hornback’s reaction to the proposal undoubtedly reflects the feeling of most tobacco farmers. He said he adheres to federal worker-safety regulations and doesn’t think further restrictions are needed.

“People get pretty extreme about trying to protect everybody from everything,” said Hornback, a Republican who started working in tobacco fields when he was 10 and now farms about 100 acres of tobacco in Kentucky. “It’s hard manual labor, but there’s nothing wrong with hard manual labor.”

That’s true unless the labor is hazardous to one’s health. Unfortunately, contact with tobacco in any form can be unhealthy, even though it has long been a bedrock of the Southern economy.

No laughing matters

Of all the injuries I’ve sustained in my long and mostly happy life, including surviving a world war, the country’s most virulent depression and other mishaps, none was like this one.

While sleeping, I recently fell out of bed and broke my big toe.

I don’t know why people laugh when I tell them I fell out of bed and broke my big toe. As some of you may well know, it’s no laughing matter to have broken one’s big toe.

But I did have the good sense, while on my knees getting up, to thank the Almighty that it was my big toe, not my arm, hip or leg that was broken.

Since the word spread about my minor misfortune, I have received more advice than I did when I described in a column my difficulty with boiling an egg. Dear readers, you have no ideas of the different ways there are to boil an egg. Thoughtful readers sent in enough recipes to fill a small cookbook.

Recommended treatments for healing a broken big toe included: Pack it in ice, keep it elevated as much as possible, tape the big toe to the next two toes.

And, from one wag, “Don’t do it again.”

In memoriam

Returning from running errands, I discovered that a car had run over a squirrel in front of our house.

A crow as big as a chicken and an even bigger buzzard were devouring the remains as enthusiastically as a diner tackling a filet mignon at the Angus Barn.

No memorial service is planned.

That first paycheck

How many of you remember your first paycheck and the emotions and circumstances surrounding this momentous event?

A recent article in The N&O about Betty Smith, author of the great novel, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” reminded me of my first pay as a journalist.

I was a member of the late UNC Professor Stuart Sechrist’s news writing class when he assigned us to interview some person of significance.

I chose Betty Smith, who lived in Chapel Hill.

It was with some trepidation that I called the author, who received me very graciously.

Sechrist encouraged me to send the article to my hometown paper, the Winston-Salem Journal. To my surprise and delight, it was published. And along came a check for $5, which I never cashed.

Good sendoff

An uplifting blessing comes from Don Elsass of New Bern:

“May all your blues be birds.”

Snow: 919-836-5636 or

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