Friday, Jul 25th

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Waxing nostalgic

I have to admit I never pulled a leaf of tobacco in my life, but I had to wax a little nostalgic coming to work Monday morning and seeing the last of twin tobacco warehouses in Riverdale being dismantled.

I beg the indulgence of those suffering from the various ailments brought on by the use of tobacco products, but the golden leaf is forever intermingled with the culture of Southern Virginia.

Growing up in a story-and-a-half Cape Cod house, our upstairs bedroom and bathroom were not in full use until my older brother graduated to a bedroom of his own as a teenager.

Before then, my parents rented it out to workers who came to town in the fall during the tobacco harvest, when all the warehouses were bustling.

I looked forward to one renter in particular who came to town at that time.

He would be up and out shortly after daybreak, so I had to act fast, eating my breakfast and darting outside to check out his truck, a canvas-backed vehicle reminiscent of the Army deuce-and-a-half made famous in World War II.

Just a little tyke, I would climb the gate at the rear of the truck and take in the rich aroma of cured tobacco, and sometimes I would even be brave enough to climb inside, often finding a stray leaf or two in the process.

Trips to town in those days took me past at least three tobacco warehouses, a bee hive of activity with farmers’ pickups and double-axle trucks waiting in line to display the product of their labor.

The radio would be on during lunchtime, and I would listen to the show “Tobacco Talk,” with its host - I recall his name was Ray Wilkins - informing listeners of the latest market news and up to date methods of increasing yield per acre.

I didn’t know what a nematode was in those days, but I understood from Ray they weren’t exactly something you’d take home to mama.

Many of my friends made money in the summer pulling tobacco, and my parents knew a number of people working in the tobacco industry, from grower to seller to warehouseman.

Believe me, I can accept the sentiments of those who think I’m glorifying an industry which in their eyes has cost the American taxpayer billions in health care expenses over the years.

It’s hard for me to understand the vilification of honest, hard-working folks who only strive to make a living and raise their families like anyone else.

I do believe if the tobacco industry had been centered anywhere else but in the South, you wouldn’t have seen the levels of the continuing furor associated with the war against “Big Tobacco.”

A non-smoker myself, I don’t pass judgment on those who do smoke, and I have no problem with decisions made by responsible adults.

The golden leaf will forever be seen in a different light, but forgive my ramblings and thoughts on a still, humid morning reminiscent of those lazy summer days when fields of tobacco lined the roadsides of Halifax County and Southern Virginia.