Them Cotton Fields Back Home

Them Cotton Fields Back Home: A Short Story
By: Stephanie L. Robertson

picture of cotton fields

“Why don’t you sit right here and play us a nice song,” said Samantha, leading Ruthie to the black piano bench.Ruthie sat down at the dark baby grand and flipped to a favorite old song her grandmother used to sing to her and her sisters.

Ruthie’s long fingers stretched across ivory and black keys to play the introductory measures.

Then she began to sing:

When I was a wee li’l baby,
My mama used ta rock me in the cradle;
In them o-ld cotton fields back ho-me…

The lines on the staff blurred before her eyes, and the notes began to dance on their ledgers. Eighth notes blended into ties, and the ties slipped off the edge of the music.

Ruthie blinked at the blurring song book. Suddenly she wasn’t seated on the firm bench but was staring down at a canopy of green and white.

“Ruthie!” a voice called from a long row up from her. “You best be pickin’ that cotton and not just standing around.”

It was her oldest sister, Betty Sue. But Betty Sue had died back in the nineties.

Something pegged the back of Ruthie’s head.

“Ouch!” she yelled, but her voice wasn’t worn out and strained. It was childlike and pitched high.

“Wake up, numbskull!”

It was her other older sister, LuAnne, who used to throw everything from pecans to small rocks to get Ruthie’s attention.

“LuAnne?” Ruthie whispered.

“Get to work, foolish girl! You want Uncle Mick to beat us both?”

Ruthie twisted her head around in search for her cruel uncle who had taken the girls in after their parents passed. Lucky for her, Uncle Mick had his back to the girls.Without another word, Ruthie reached down and extracted a piece of fluff from the cotton boll.

As if she hadn’t missed a day of picking cotton in 72 years, Ruthie found herself back at the job she had loathed as a child.Sharp spurs tore at her hands, no matter how carefully she tried to avoid them, and her bare feet padded down the dusty rows as she tossed the cotton into her sack.

How did I get here? She wondered as she plodded along, the sun’s beams burned through the thin flour sack dress she was wearing—the one that her three older sisters had passed down to her.

Had the past 72 years simply been a dream?

If so, it had been a very lovely dream….By shear will, she had escaped the farm, worked her way to a bachelor’s degree at the state university. Met and married her dear William, earned a master’s degree in physics, taught at the college level, had 2.5 children, earned a Ph.D. in astrophysics, and traveled extensively.

But is that correct? She asked herself. If so, what am I doing back here?

“Stop that lollygagging!” a voice came from behind her. She looked up into the malevolent eyes of Uncle Mick. Then she felt the blow to her head, which was very real. It knocked her off her feet,

and she was falling…



“Did you see the look she gave me before the Ativan took effect, Doctor?” asked Samantha as she held Ruthie’s body, which had slumped over the piano bench.

The doctor sighed. “I did, indeed.”

“As you suggested, we tried to distract her…But she gave the same reaction. Just like every day at the exact same time. None of us are sure where she goes.”

Looking back at his notes, the doctor said, “Then let’s schedule the MRI at that time, tomorrow.”

Somewhere in depths of Ruthie’s tangled mind, she felt herself being carried out of the room and on to a bed. Once again, she was safe in her present world.Until the next day when the song took her back to the past….

basket of cotton

Thanks to Writer’s Digest for the creative writing prompt which inspired this short story…”The Prompt: You’re absent-mindedly singing to yourself, when suddenly the topic of the song comes true. Post your response in 500 words or fewer in the comments below.” I used to sing “Them Cotton Fields Back Home” when I was a child growing up in rural south Alabama. Although I’ve never picked cotton myself, I’ve heard plenty of stories of those who did that back-breaking work.

I hope you enjoy this short story and let me know what you think!

This World of Creativity

I am completely happy–not just joyful (and there’s a big difference)–when I’m with a pen, paper, and surrounded by this world of creativity. A cup of coffee in hand, and a camera nearby to capture the moment.

Am I making a ton of cash in the freelance writing world?

Absolutely not.

But I am tethered by no deadline until 2019.

I am happy (as well as joyful).

And could anyone ask for anything more out of life?

This World of Creativity

My work space from March 9, 2018 was Lowe Mill, a huge artist community in Huntsville that is housed in an old brick factory with hardwood floors and tall windows.  I chose Lowe Mill because it’s one of my favorite places.  It fuels my creative spirit because of all the artists who have studios there.

I can take a writing break and go talk to photographers like Stephanie Schamban.  If I get hungry, there’s a vegan food truck, Chef Will the Palate, run by the owner, right outside the building.  (That smoothie was so creamy and delicious!!!) Or I can get an avocado popsicle from Suzy’s Pops.  Yummmmmmmmmm!!!

There Ain’t Nothing that’s Going to Steal My Joy

In an hour, perhaps, the happiness will drift away…It may fade, because such is life.  

But no one, absolutely no one can ever take away my joy.

No matter my life circumstances.

It will always remain.

longhand writing

Longhand writing

Here I sat and wrote, accomplishing so much. Adding word after word to my novel that I want to pitch at a writer’s conference this spring. It’s a tall goal–trying to write around 20k words before I can say I’m done, but it’s the goal I set for myself back in January.

So yesterday, I wrote what I put in italics today.  I’m back in my little home office now, which isn’t as much fun or as bohemian as yesterday’s environment, but I hope to go to the library and write some more…Longhand, just like writers in the past.

Lowe Mill water tower

Lowe Mill Water Tower — View from Below

professional photographer

Kindred spirit, photographer Stephanie Schamban

professional artist

Window of Artist Heather Baumbach

tall factory windows

Tall factory windows of Lowe Mill

view of green door from window

Sweet green door, view from 2nd story

green grass means springtime

Pouring out My Heart

Hello Everyone! I have heard it said that doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results, is the very definition of insanity. Today, I’m pouring out my heart to you all…my very dear readers.

I cannot thank my return visitors enough for coming back and visiting Sweetgum Life. You’ll never know how much I appreciate it!

You may or may not know that I have this app called “Google Analytics.” Furthermore, as much as this may freak you out a little bit, I’ll let you in on a blogger secret: Analytics tells me from where you are posting. The geography feature is one of my favorite things about Google Analytics.

For example, I see that someone from New York City has visited my site more than once. Wow! I mean, someone from NYC is reading my stuff!!!

How humbling is that!?!

Also, thank you to Orlando, Goose Creek, Loretto, Brevard, and Alma. Thank you to my supportive friends in north Alabama.

It’s you guys…all of you guys who return–that keeps me going as a blogger.

Pouring out My Heart when Things Seem Hopeless

And maybe my posts seem overly optimistic. That’s not real life, and I hope it doesn’t come across that way. When I only get a handful of readers, things seem hopeless, and I feel like giving up. Happy to say that my family keeps me going when things seem hopeless.

Lefty will say, “So you’re going to give it up just because it’s hard?”

Princess Buttercup will add, “But you love doing your blog.”

And I answer, “Yeah, but if hardly anyone reads it, what’s the point?”

But there is a point. I’ve been posting since 2013, and hopefully I’m a better writing because of my blog.

Pouring out My Heart when My Machine doesn’t Work.

Another frustration is the fact that my space bar got stuck one day. I tried to fix it by pulling it off, and now I have to pound hard with my thumb to get a space between words. Grrr! And then was the week when our machine quit altogether and Lefty had to reload everything on it. That took a bite out of my time.

Pouring out My Heart when Life gets Busy

I’m not sure about this freelance stuff anymore. I’m not necessarily organized (at all) and it’s hard to stay focused when working at home. This past month, I’ve been so busy with freelancing that I haven’t had much time to think about quality content.

Yes, it does sound cool to say that I’m a professional writer, and I can make my office anywhere. (I.e., the library, Lowe Mill, Starbucks) But in between time, I take breaks to do a load of laundry, wash dishes, or whatever. I’ll admit, I do love to take lunch breaks to watch “Fixer Upper” while I eat. And I try to stay out of the office after 5 p.m, but it isn’t always easy.

A gray barn like Papa’s. I took this picture near Springfield, MO.

Pouring out My Heart about My Blogging Motivation

My motivation behind starting the blog to begin with was to have a writing platform to show potential publishers when I pitch my novel. Unfortunately, I don’t have a few thousand readers yet. “Yet”—hope springs eternal.

It has become more than that. I truly love each of you who visit me, and I love to read comments. It’s like having a pen-pal. (Remember those?)

Pouring Out My Heart about the Future of Sweetgum Life

So, I plan to keep Sweetgum Life up and running until my self-hosting fees are due next fall. After that, we’ll see what happens. I am trying to learn Mail Chimp and will start an email campaign. I’m hoping it’s a way to keep some of my passer-by readers. I’ve just got to learn how to use the thing (the app) first.

Okay, enough said about that….

I surely hope you’ll give me an idea on your favorite kinds of content on Sweetgum Life. Is it faith, short stories, amazing southerners, DIY, home stuff, old barns and homes, southern life in general, or writing life? Please let me know, and I hope you all have a blessed day!


Black Angus.