Vital Signs

That Demon Weed

When I hear all the talk about tobacco, I think of my Uncle Rollins, a green-visored straw hat on his salt-and-pepper head and a two-day stubble on his seasoned farmer face. He is standing in a field or by an unpainted barn as he crumbles a yellow-brown leaf and sticks a wad of 'bacca in his mouth to chew. August mornings and fields of the University of Maryland's number 64 plants topping out with white blossoms also come to mind when I reminisce about the raising of the infamous crop. During childhood summers blessed by just the right amount of rainfall, the tobacco would be tall and heavy with exquisitely shaped leaves. Midlife reverie sometimes takes me back to the dark, cool interior of my father's own barn, a place where children would build houses out of tobacco sticks and where copperheads were inclined to hide in the fall.

Autumn on a tobacco farm is gentle and slow and belies the reality of brutal July and August labor and men working and praying for the tiniest puff of breeze blown across the peninsula from saltwater rivers. I ache when I recall the dusty September smell of the harvested plants curing and with such a remembrance can briefly visit a life antithetical to what passes for living in these times. I am but one more old fogey, I suppose, looking to the past and dreading the future, but I consider myself fortunate to be able to mourn the passing of my tidewater, country heritage. At least I have known...

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