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!


Shelby’s Thanksgiving Intervention — A Short Story

Today I wrote a short story from a Thanksgiving writer’s prompt at Writer’s Digest:  Shelby’s Thanksgiving Intervention — Short Story.  I found the turkey craft here at “11 Best Turkey Crafts for Kids.”

Hope you enjoy!

Thanksgiving paper turkey craft
Shelby’s Thanksgiving Intervention
(Or, Now Who’s the Turkey??)

By: Stephanie L. Robertson

Thanksgiving is my favorite time of the year with its beautiful fall leaves and sumptuous feasting.  I was looking forward to another Thanksgiving feast à la Mom.

“We’ll just go ahead,” said my husband, Ben, as he stepped from the car and grabbed the hands of my two younger kids.

“Ouch, Dad, that hurts,” cried my seven-year-old, Wendy.

“Sh!” said Ben as he let go Wendy’s hand and pushed her and Pete inside Mom and Dad’s house without the usual courtesy of knocking.

“Now that was just weird,” I said to my older son, Jesse.  “Do you want to help me carry in one of the casseroles? Looks like Dad isn’t going to help.”

Jesse looked at me from the corner of his eyes.  His voice shook a little.  “Uh, Mom, I’ve got to go!”

Then he sprinted toward large brick house without a second glance.

I shrugged and juggled all three casserole dishes, shutting the hatch of our SUV with my left foot.

With the assortment of cars and trucks parked in the driveway, it looked as though all the family was there.

I teetered up the steps of the house and yelled through my parents’ heavy mahogany door, “Hey!  Can someone lend a hand?”

The door swung open.

The entire family was sitting in the living room, all eyes were on me.

But instead of a Thanksgiving turkey, there was a giant “Intervention” sign hanging across the mantle.

“Shelby,” said my mother quietly, “We’ve got to talk.”

I felt all three casserole dishes fall to the hardwood floor as I stared back in shock.

“Shelby, you have spent entirely too much time writing for that NANOWRIMO, to the detriment of your family,” said Ben.

“Instead of having Thanksgiving this year, we’re asking that you admit yourself to Writer’s Recovery in Tucson, Arizona,” said Dad.

“Shelby, we want you to come back to us—the way you used to be!” sobbed my sister, Jane.

“You’ll take a flight to Tucson and spend two weeks at the Three Points Resort and Spa for the duration of your recovery,” said my cousin Fred.  “The brochure says the resort features pool-side light therapy, Jungian horseback-riding counseling, and massage transaction analysis.”

Please, Shelby, we want you to come home completely intervened.  No work for two weeks, dear. We’re begging you.”

Shelby didn’t think twice.  “Okay.  I’m in!”

Thanksgiving text with fall letters: Now Who's the Turkey??

Writing prompt source:

When the Train Whistle Blows — Short, Spooky Story

When the Train Whistle Blows
By: Stephanie L. Robertson

Folks ‘round here say there’s a ghost that haunts the tracks running through the middle of Athens.

Do you believe them?

I do.

I seen her.

They say it’s the ghost of Perlie Gunn, waitin’ for her beau, Gilbert McCall.

And waitin’.

And waitin’.

Ever time you hear the train whistle on a dark, drizzling night.

1935 and Perlie was the purtiest gal of all at the ol’ wood school house. Just past her eighteenth birthday. Blue eyes and pert nose. Always wearing that blue flour-sack dress. A trip to town for her daddy to get something at that hardware store right over there.

Passed the ol’ Jefferson Street diner, where Gilbert McCall sat at his breakfast of sausage, eggs, and grits. Couldn’t recall ever seeing her before. Jumped right up from his table, fork and knife falling from his high-born hands. Left it to go meet the yeller-haired gal.


Was that little ol’ Perlie Gunn, all growed up?

Diner owner, Buzz Henshaw, just shook his head, wondering if McCall would remember to pay the check, but knowing the feller would fergit. There was no stopping true love.
Folks say Gilbert jogged after Perlie and they fell for each other like a fish for a worm, the minute their eyes met.

But Perlie stood no chance with a McCall.

Oh, no ma’me.

She was from the wrong side of the tracks.

Ol’ Judge McCall forbade their courtship, and her folks knew it would end bad. They knew a grimy-faced pig farmer’s daughter couldn’t land a high-falutin McCall.

But folks saw them two sneaking to meet for picnics or out and about Athens. They saw Gilbert, looking all moony-eyed, slipping out of the courthouse where he clerked that summer he was home from law school down in Tuscaloosa. They’d steal a kiss behind the drug store, when ol’ Judge was inside, fannin’ hisself from the summer heat.

Story goes that they were s’posed to meet down by the tracks at dusk. Run off an’ marry, they was, in McCall’s fine, red Ford coupe.

Something put Gilbert late. He heard that train come flying down them tracks and saw her standing and waitin’ on t’other side, her clothes in a beat up ol’ box. Musta slipped in them heels she borrowed from her Cousin Maylene. Ankle stuck fast in a gap twix the metal rail and wooden tie.

Train man near ripped the town apart with the sound of his brakes sliding towards Perlie. It was too late. They say that train drug her nigh forty feet afore Gilbert could blink a eye.
I heard tell Gilbert never went back to Tuscaloosa after that. Ended up somewheres over in Georgia. I never seen him since.

But I seen her walkin’.

Still wearing that blue flour sack dress.

Still looking for Gilbert after all these years.

On wet, foggy nights.

Walkin’ on the tracks when the train whistle blows.

Pearl Harbor Day Memory — A Short Story

row_flowersPatsy Campbell woke up as soon as the sun rose above her window pane. The ten-year-old leaped from her bed and walked to her dresser to admire a small trophy.

Patsy smiled as she remembered the night before when she and her handsome partner had won a dance contest. Patsy had taken ballet lessons and taught herself several dances that were popular at the time. The girl dearly loved music, so her father, Navy chief radioman Edward Campbell, had taken her to the Bloch Arena, which hosted a big band contest every Saturday night.

The emcee of the evening spotted the blue-eyed child with wavy blond hair in the audience. Calling her up on stage, he had asked for volunteers to jitterbug with the girl.

A handsome Navy man, barely 17, volunteered and the two beat out the other dancers that night.

Patsy smiled at the memory as she hurried to get dressed. Always an early riser, Patsy was the only one in the family who was awake.

Patsy skipped out the door of the brand-new cottage that the Campbell family had recently moved into after previously being stationed in the jungles of Panama in the little village of Darien.

Patsy did a little pirouette on the porch before running into the back yard to play a quick game of catch with the family dog, Tinker.

Not long into the game, a squadron of planes flew over her head. She had never seen so many fighter planes as once. Patsy waved and watched as the pilots waved back. They were so close that Patsy could almost see their eyes.

This was the day that lives in infamy.

Patsy ran into the cottage to wake her family after the planes began their bombing campaign. She could hardly hear her mother’s screams as Mrs. Campbell gathered her children close.

Mr. Campbell told his family to go stay at the neighbor’s house as he prepared to go report to his ship. Mrs. Campbell clung to her husband, who gently pulled her away and told her to go.

After her husband left, Mrs. Campbell told her daughter, “Go get your dance trophy. You need something that you can hold to remember your former life.”

Mrs. Campbell and her two children soon were at staring at Hickam Field from their neighbor’s upstairs window. Smoke and flames rose into the perfect Oahu sky. Men frantically rushed around, setting up gun positions and barricades. The National Anthem began playing on the radio. Mrs. Campbell broke into tears.

For the first time, Patsy felt a stab of fear that left her queasy. Only in the worst circumstances had she seen her mother cry.


Patsy would grow up to have a family of her own and live in San Diego. After a careful search, she would learn that her jitterbug dance partner was named Jack Evans.

And she would learn that they only lived 15 miles apart!


This short story is based on the true memory of Pat Thompson (néeCampbell).