Sampson Independent

Watch out for the monkey

I walked out of the house the other morning into a sauna. Or at least it seemed that way. There had been an early morning shower, but now the sun was out in full force. As I headed out to do some mowing, I thought, “I can’t imagine being in a tobacco field today.” Well, actually I could.

The week before, we were doing a landscaping job, cutting bushes. It was another hot and humid day. (Yes, it’s summer in Sampson County.) We were already sweating up a storm. I took a break from cutting and looked over at Johnny.

“Well, at least we’re not in the tobacco field today.” Johnny nodded and agreed. He knew what I was talking about. And probably many of you reading this also know exactly what I’m talking about. There’s probably not a harder, messier, stickier job than working in tobacco. Specifically, priming, or cropping, tobacco on foot in the tobacco field.

And that was what I was usually doing during the summer growing up. As soon as I was big enough, Daddy took me off the tractor and gave me a row along with the other croppers. To those who are fortunately unfamiliar with the process, cropping tobacco isn’t very complicated. You take a row of tobacco. You prime, or crop, the ripe leaves off each stalk, usually three or four leaves, starting from the bottom working your way up the stalk. You tuck the primed leaves under your arm until you get an armful, then carry them and throw them in the trailer. You continue the process until you finish out the row of tobacco. Then you do another row, then another row, and another, and another.

If it sounds like hard work, well, it was. We would start early in the morning. Most of the time the tobacco leaves were soaking wet from the morning dew. So we would get soaking wet. And along the way some of that tobacco juice would be sure to get in your eyes, stinging them. But as the morning passed the sun would come out and the temperature would soar. And the heat and humidity would soon cause sweat to replace the morning dew on your soaked clothes. One thing the experienced croppers would often say when the day would heat up was, “You better watch out. Don’t let the monkey jump on your back.” They were right. You had to watch out for the monkey.

Some of you are probably wondering, “What in the world is “the monkey?” Once again, some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve been cropping tobacco all day. The heat and humidity has the sweat pouring off you like you’re in a sauna. You’re cropping the lower leaves, which are called sand lugs, so you feel like you’ve been standing on your head the whole day. You crop an armful of tobacco and straighten up to carry it to the trailer. Then everything starts spinning around. You feel woozy. Then you see him, the monkey. OK, you really don’t see a monkey, but that’s what we called it. Why, I don’t know. But if he jumped on your back, you’ve had a bad day. I suppose the correct term for it is dehydration.

I was reminded of those days in the tobacco field with “the monkey” after reading an “Our Daily Bread” devotion by Joe Stowell. He described an experience he had with dehydration. (He didn’t call it “the monkey.”) He wrote, “My experience with dehydration gives me a new appreciation for Jesus’ invitation: ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink’ (John 7:37). His announcement was dramatic, particularly in terms of the timing. John notes that it was the last day of the “great feast”—the annual festival commemorating the wandering of the Jews in the wilderness—which climaxed with a ceremonial pouring of water down the temple steps to recall God’s provision of water for the thirsty wanderers. At that point, Jesus rose and proclaimed that He is the water we all desperately need.”

The way to avoid the monkey, or dehydration, is drink plenty of fluids. But there are many today who are thirsty in another way. They feel dizzy because their world seems to be spinning out of control. If that’s you, maybe it’s time to get the monkey off your back. Come to Jesus, the Living Water, and drink.

Mac McPhail McPhail

By Mac McPhail

Contributing columnist

Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at