Picking for Money

Do you remember the first paying job you had as a child? I do.

Before Disney World, before Six Flags and before Carowinds, in the South there

were………………County Fairs.

I know annual county and state fairs are still popular events, but they don’t create the same excitement and anticipation of knowing the fair is coming to town, as it did back then. It was almost like looking forward to Christmas.

The week long event was not to be missed although I had missed it many times.

Student day was on Tuesday. That meant there were free admission tickets to the fair handed out at school. They were good for one day only.

The ticket would get me through the gate, but I had no money to ride the rides or buy cotton candy. It wouldn’t be any fun to get in the gate and watch as the Ferris Wheel went round and round without me. Or watch other kids eating sticky candy apples and cotton candy.     Ferris_wheel[1]

And the issue of a ride to the fairgrounds?  The fairgrounds weren’t close and parents driving us wasn’t an option. So much had to fall into place, but this was the year. It was going to happen! This 11 year old had waited long enough

My older brother, sister, and I approached a young couple next door for the possibility of a ride with them. They said we could as long as it was ok with our parents. Parents were ok with that plan, but reiterated there would be no money for us to spend at the fair. No one ever accused them of being over indulgent to their offspring. And that’s ok. We learned a lesson in self reliance.

One problem solved. We had a ride. Now problem number 2. How were we going to get the money we would need? Although you could get by with just a few dollars, even that would take creative thinking. How to earn money?

We didn’t get an allowance at home, nor were we paid to do chores. Our closest neighbors, the young couple, were struggling financially and wouldn’t be hiring any help.

Since the fair came in early fall, there was only one way to get the money.

We would pick cotton. There was a farm about a half a mile away from our rural home. You could see the cotton needed to be picked. It couldn’t be that hard could it?  We approached the farmer and just like that, I had my first paying job.


I was given an apron to tie around my waist and shown how to pick it and put it in the pockets of the apron. Although the instructions were simple, the pay was determined by the weight of the cotton you picked. I don’t remember the rate of pay per pound, but I know it takes a lot of cotton picking to come up with a pound. And it’s not easy on the back, even a young back.

We started picking cotton after school a couple of weeks before the fair. By the end of the week before the fair, we had our fair money.  Dreams do come true.


I am living in an area now where I watched as cotton was planted in the spring. I see it growing and can’t wait to see the fields white with cotton this fall, ready to be picked.

And forever in my mind, I will associate fields of cotton with the county fair. The smells and sights of the fair are intermingled with the rows and rows of white cotton.


Thanks to that farmer who gave me my first ever paying job. I guess you could call it a dream job, because that job made a little girl’s dream come true.