They anticipated a bumper crop that August. Eddie’s forty acres were white with the swelling cotton bolls. An experienced farmer, he’d been at it long enough to know what his crop would bring. Even though he’d only be paid for two-thirds of the yield, this should be one of his better years. After settling up with Mr. Hathaway and the grocer, he ought to be able to put away enough to start renting the next fall. He had his eye on a farm close to Neely’s mama. The house wasn’t much better than this one, but at least he wouldn’t be sharecropping.
The whole family picked from daylight to dark for days, only breaking to eat buttered sugar biscuits and rest a few minutes at noon. Their hands bled from the sharp points on the dried bolls. Neeley had the oldest two girls trade out watching the baby while she picked. The weather held till they got the drop in. Mr. Hathaway was there to weigh every bag they emptied before having it hauled to the gin.
After the last wagon load of cotton rolled out, they waited anxiously for Mr. Hathaway to get back to pay them their share. They knew he was coming early that Saturday, so they already had the wagon hitched up and the kids ready to go so they could settle their grocery bill and get the kids some shoes. The little guys had gone barefoot all summer, but with school ready to start and winter coming, they’d need shoes.
Mr. Hathaway and his foreman got out of his truck and walked over to where they waited. “I got bad news for you folks. The price of cotton fell and seed cost way more than I thought it would. Y’all didn’t clear but about fifty dollars on this crop.”
Eddie was stunned, taking long to speak. “That don’t hardly seem right. Cotton’s been selling for fourteen cents a pound. We had a fine crop. The way I figure it, we got just over three-hundred dollars clear. You was s’posed to pay for the seed, not me. We got to talk about this.”
“That’s all they is to it. You just got a tough break on the seed.” Mr. Hathaway dismissed him and turned to go, encountering Neeley standing between him and his truck. She had a bull whip in her hand. At six feet and near two-hundred pounds, the enraged woman was an imposing figure, especially to a small, wiry older man. He and his foreman were trapped between the house and the wagon.
“No, that ain’t how it’s gonna go.” She looked him in the eye. “You owe us at least three-hundred twenty-seven dollars and that’s what you gonna pay us. I’ll whip you if I have to, but you ain’t starvin’ my younguns.”
Mr. Hathaway dropped his eyes in the face of the furious woman with the whip. Reaching in his pocket, he dug out a thick roll of bills. He counted out three-hundred fifty-three dollars and handed it to Eddie. “I forgot you have your own mule and equipment. This will make us square.” He and the foreman edged their way around Neeley and scurried to the truck. He called back to Eddie once he was in the truck, “I want you and that woman off the place. I got somebody else in mind.”
Eddie was still shocked at what his wife had done, so Neeley answered for him. “Don’t you worry none about that. We already got somethin’ lined up.”