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DDT ~ Yum, Yum!
by Ralph Jones

Do you remember when boll weevils started threatening farmers? I remember this being about 1948. My grandfather, Warren Phillips, and my uncle, Frank Tallant, both raised cotton in the Randolph community (Pontotoc County, Mississippi) at this time. Granddad’s fields were closer to Randolph, and his house was where the Post Office stands today. Uncle Frank lived and farmed over near the Oak Forest Cemetery; in fact, the road that borders the east side of the cemetery led directly up to his house.

Somewhere along this time DDT was introduced to kill the confounded boll weevils, and every person who raised cotton used the pesticide liberally. DDT, a white powder, was applied with a hand cranked blower, and both of my relatives used the pesticide on their fields. As they walked down the middle of the cotton rows with the two forked neck applicator, the dusty powder could be blown on two rows of cotton at the same time. Returning from “putting out DDT,” they would be covered, head to toe, with the white powder. They did tie a bandana or cloth of some sort around their noses and mouths to keep from breathing too much of the stuff.

Grandad and Uncle Frank found out early on that the poison was good to kill flies and bugs of other descriptions as well. Since there was an abundance of the little flying buggers, Granddad dusted his porch and the “dog trot” through the middle of his house with the powder, which did help keep the insects and flies down. It was also used sometimes in the garden on the vegetables that had other sorts of bugs. Granddad and others in the community used DDT in their barns and anywhere flies tended to congregate.

No telling how much of the poison was ingested from drinking milk and water and eating garden vegetables . . . and by simply breathing the air. Driving down country roads, we sometimes had to roll up the car windows because the area was so heavy with DDT dust. DDT had an odor and could be smelled for some distance. This was not a particularly bad smell, but a distinguishable one to most folks.

There was once a song written about the boll weevil titled “Just Lookin’ for a Home,” more commonly called the “Boll Weevil Song.” The author is unknown, and several different singers recorded it at one time or another. There are many verses, some probably made up by country folk along the way. The song goes like this:

        First time I saw the boll weevil,
        he was sitting on the square,
        next time I saw the boll weevil,
        he had his whole family there,

        Jis’ lookin’ fer a home,
        jis’ lookin’ fer a home.

        Farmer say to the weevil,
        what makes yo head so red,
        weevil say to da farmer,
        it’s a wonder I ain’t dead.

        The weevil be a mean little bug,
        came from Mexico, they say.
        Came all the way to Texas,
        jis lookin’ fer a place to stay.

        The first time I saw the weevil,
        he was on the Western Plain.
        Next time I saw the weevil,
        he was ridin’ on a Memphis train.

        Now, if anyone should ask you,
        who it was who wrote this song,
        you just say it was a homeless farmer,
        with his ragged britches on.

Now, fast forward to today. Since about 1971 we have been told by the powers that be that DDT might just kill you, and for all practical purposes the government has banned its use in any form since that time. They tell us if DDT gets into our systems it never goes away, just sits there like cold grease in an old frying pan, hiding in our innards somewhere, year after year.

I am hereby warning you about my latent problem with DDT! I’m bound to have lots of it in my system, so be careful around me. If you jostle me too much I might explode right there on the spot. The mushroom cloud would be seen for miles, and the fall-out would be beyond belief. If I don’t blow up before then, tell the mortician to be careful embalming me. One false move on his part and the entire mortuary and surrounding buildings might be blown into the next county, leaving only a large crater where they once stood. Heaven only knows what it might do to the Ozone Layer.

Yes, this old geezer is a living time bomb, walking upright and taking nourishment; however, he still sprinkles a little of the dastardly dust on his fresh garden salads now and again, giving it that unique “days gone past” flavor, don’t-cha-know!


Read more of Ralph's stories:
The Storm That Never Came
How Green the Grass Grows

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