— By LARRY JONES
Several years back, as I recall, the musical group Alabama recorded a song entitled, “High Cotton.” A lot of youngsters today wouldn’t have any idea what that phrase means. It is a saying used by Southern farm folks to indicate that all is going well. If the cotton is tall, the prospect for a bountiful harvest must be good.
One lyric in this song was, “Leaving home was the hardest thing we ever faced.” I can certainly identify with such a sentiment.
Down on the poor farm, money was always tight, material possessions were meager and work was often hard, but I must have led quite a sheltered childhood. We always had enough to eat, a warm bed in which to sleep and I knew I had parents and other family who loved me. That was “tall cotton” that millions of youngsters have never known.
When it came time for me to “leave home,” it actually came easier than for some because it happened in increments. I’ve known individuals who couldn’t wait to strike out on their own and conquer the world. Some of these were eager to flee an abusive childhood, and others sought to aggressively pursue all life had to offer. Being quite conservative by nature, I was happy to transition to adulthood a little more slowly. By attending college relatively close to home, I was able to return home on most weekends. Likewise, summer jobs were within easy driving distance.
When I threw my meager belongings into the car and headed out for Pensacola, Fla., to begin flight training, I felt a loneliness and apprehension like nothing I’d ever known. This was the big league, and I was on my own. On this, my first journey in the Navy, I was told to pack light – everything that I would need would be provided. Within an hour of my arrival, everything I brought with me was in a sealed box that I would not see again for several months.
Over the decades I served in the Navy I packed many a bag, often “living out of a suitcase” for extended periods of time. These “bags” have varied quite a bit. I’ve used briefcases, duffle bags, hanger bags, folding hanger bags, hard suitcases, soft suitcases, cardboard boxes, grocery sacks, and footlockers (cruise boxes as we called them). In addition, when flying I carried a helmet bag, map cases, navigation bags and, on occasion, barf bags. Thankfully, I never personally packed one of the latter.
In my helmet bag I always packed a few essentials – snacks, a toothbrush, extra cigarettes and a few dollars carefully hidden. Anytime we took off, we could never be certain when or where we would sleep that night.
On my travels throughout life I always tried to pack my bags carefully, never leaving anything I would have to reclaim. I did this, with one major exception. The Navy told me to pack light when I left home and headed for Pensacola. In doing so, I left much that was dear to me and essential to my being – my family, my childhood friends, my home and the land where tall cotton once grew. For these, I returned.
Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy Commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.