Columns » Bob Lancaster

Crop report

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Time was, when Arkies bragged on their state, the topic was almost certain to be agricultural. We didn’t have tall buildings or surfy beaches, or connoisseurs of anything higher than folk art, and we weren’t on the cutting edge of anything, and we weren’t anybody’s cat’s pajamas, and our biggest-name celebrities were country-music comedians with their front teeth blacked out, but aye doggies our cotton, soybeans, and rice, taken as a whole, were second to none and you’d best acknowledge the fact or prepare to fill your hand.

My heart brimmed with booster ebullience but I always had trouble expressing it fully because I just couldn’t identify with any of those field crops that made us famous. Down deep, I felt no loyalty or allegiance to any one of the whorehoppers. I didn’t hate them or anything, but preferred keeping other agricultural company — gourds, flax, salt peanuts, farkleberries, chowchow, and mountain oysters, to name a few of the perennial garden favorites here at Old Rippy Meadows, our family farm.

The romance of cotton was something that I knew existed in inverse proportion to one’s physical and psychological distance from them old cottonfields back home. My potential as a bean enthusiast perished at my first encounter with a soyburger. And in an instance of competing camps that have always been and remain mutually exclusive, the Lancasters were potater people and not rice people. I still know the early Mahatma and Water Maid jingles but their commercials failed to strum the promotional chords that might have lured me over from tuberville. Sad commentary on the clodhopper sensibility, I suppose, when Scheherazade awiggle can’t outbeguile your common Argus-eyed spud.

Wisconsinians swore fealty to their cheeses, Floridians to their tans, Californians to the gold in their thar hills, and I yearned with an exceeding earnestness to be the true-blue Arkie, proud of my grain and legume and fiber heritage, but it was not to be, not to be.

And I still wouldn’t give you a plugged nickel, or an unplugged one either, for all the rice in a Stuttgart greenie, all the soybeans in bad ice cream, all the cotton between this Memphis and the one that worshipped Ptah, and if you think such commonwealth vegetative indifference betrays a sorry disrespect for Arkansas’s sodbuster past, you’ll be glad to know that at least a couple of this publication’s stalwart readers agree with you — namely readers of last week’s meditation in this space on my spring planting misadventures.

They rang up and left hateful messages. Abusive messages. Messages in which I stand accused of ridiculing honorable husbandry, of pure fabrication concerning improbable putative sowings and preposterous alleged reapings, of mocking time-honored semi-sacred rituals and cycles and practices. A grave offense, one of them nominating that the House Unagrarian Activities Committee should have me up.

It’s a bum rap, in my opinion, and I won’t dignify it, though I’ll concede the other bastard’s contention that I couldn’t farm my way out of a wet paper bag. Alack, it is true: I couldn’t farm my way out of any paper bag, irregardless, as grandiloquent Cousin L.J. would surely have said, of its dampness quotient, or relative humidity.

I know I shouldn’t admit this, but I’ve been especially unmoved by once-king cotton’s latter-day plight. It had a good long run. Oldtimers still salaamed it only yesterday, rapt by dank memories of sad, umber shotgun interiors, iconing even its bandito weevil, but except for the pink variety that fair carnies whip yet into cotton candy, the stuff has such lugubrious associations for me that it’s been a big relief in recent years to be able to put in my own truck patch of synthetics here at the Old Rip.

Through the miracle of modern agricultural technology, anybody can harvest a nice polyester crop nowadays almost without effort. You just scatter the seeds in the spring — only cursory tilling, no weeding, no pesticides, none of the old laying-by rigamarole — and harvest ready-to-wear garments in the fall. The buttons, zippers, pleats, and other tailoring are bioengineered into the stuff’s DNA, so that after the ripening you can literally go nude out into the cropfield and pluck you some undies and a nice polymer suit of clothes — I’m particularly excited about my Spandex crop’s prospects — and go on directly to Sunday school or a funeral or a band concert confident that no acquaintance or rival there will be adjudged nattier.

And it’s no iron, never wrinkle, and the pre-emergent invests your entire wardrobe with Scotchgard taken directly from the soil.

The science isn’t yet perfect — it nearly is, but you’ll get an occasional grown-in zipper that’s bad to stick, and very rarely one that doesn’t zip at all, that’s a faux zipper, in appearance almost like an iron-on. But it’s no problem culling these faulties at picking time.

The buttons in this first generation leave something to be desired too. There’s almost no variety in their size or color, and it’s hard looking at any of them not to think old dimes that have been run over by a train. Again, a small complaint, and given the benefits I wouldn’t want to get the name of a niggler.

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