I learned the seasons, the rhythms and timing of tobacco or at least when they were supposed to be. They weren’t always in sync with each other. On this fall Monday morning, it was the rhythms of Al Green’s music that led me to tobacco and the stripping room.
It was back in 2001, I had seen Mr. Winn in church the day before. He told me he would be stripping tobacco in his barn the next morning if I wanted to come. Mr. Figgs had gone to Mr. Winn as the the seasons changed. I suppose I now made the cut of friendship, which allowed me to call him that. He said I could find him in the stripping room at 9:00AM.
If Mr. Winn needed extra help he would often drive down to the Salvation Army and find people in need of work and pay them in cash, always more then minimum wage. He is that kind of kind person. That Monday, I headed out to his barn. I had been all over that barn a number of times. But this time I walked in and could not understand for the life of me where the stripping room was. I could not find it. Then I heard Al Green and he had a back up singer, Mr. Winn. Now I love Al Green, but Mr. Winn, that man can sing! The music and dust were seeping out and under a small door. I walked in, Mr. Winn with his ever present corn cob pipe, Roslyn with her fresh braids, Clarence, the gas heater and Al Green warming up the room. There was a rhythm besides the music, one that I did not want to interrupt, and I don’t know that I could have anyway. They had a speed, a system, a rhythm of their own. I went unnoticed, snapping photos as they worked on.
I had been told about a tobacco press, and like the room itself, I could not find it. I suppose I expected something mechanical and shiny, not pieces of wood. The process involved stepping on the leaves, and then they were tied up and pressed. Time flew by; so much so I didn’t realize the fine coat of dust that had built up on and over me, and all my equipment until I left. It was like I had been in a room time forgot and the dust had settled in and on everything, including me. Old school Al Green music seeming like it was brand new.