Connecticut is a small state. It can be crossed from North to South or East to West in less than two hours but it holds four hundred years of history. Growing up in a tiny town with the stories of clockmakers Eli Terry and Seth Thomas, the Charter Oak, and church law, awoke in me a fascination with the past.
Connecticut is a beautiful state. A drive along Route 8 to Torrington is a joy in the spring when pink Mountain Laurel cloaks the rolling old mountains. The same drive in the winter with reveal glittering ice falls where springs trickle water over the rock faces. The sun will bring out fantastic green and blue streaks from the copper content. Then the fall foliage can contain so many colors it is blinding. The Long Island Sound provides a hundred places to stop and enjoy the salt water.
Recently my husband and I were driving though South Windsor Connecticut when I spotted tobacco drying in one of the old sheds and it reminded me of hot summers and cool autumns during my childhood.
If you don’t have a family member who smokes cigars, you’ve probably never heard of Connecticut Valley-grown broad leaf wrappers. When Cuba was famous for their hand-rolled cigars, the premium wrapper in the world was grown in Connecticut. When tobacco was imported from Virginia as a money crop, the Connecticut River valley with its thick top-soil and protection by the surrounding hills became a prime provider. Thousands of acres were devoted to tobacco.
Netting-shaded fields filled the farms. I don’t know what they use now, but it was like a heavy cheese-cloth in my childhood. Wooden frames encircled every field and the white netting covered the plants. It kept the temperature steady and gave some protection from hailstorms.
Tobacco is a crop that draws its flavor from the soil. The same seeds have been planted in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rico and other sites further south. They produce a
With the recent upsurge in cigar popularity, growers are opening the old fields.
During the 40s and 50s in the last weeks of high school, growers began recruiting boys and girls to work in the tobacco fields for the summer. Anyone who wanted a little spending money could earn it. The farms would send a bus to pick up the workers in the early morning and return them around four pm.
This was in the days before itinerant farm workers and the guys were glad to do the hard job. They worked by the piece. A faster picker could bring home decent money. The bottom leaves were picked from the plants by sliding down the dirt rows on your knees. A mark on the picker’s arm somewhere near the elbow indicated the proper length of the leaf to be harvested. It was a filthy job and the teens often jumped into the river to cool off during lunch break.
The girls didn’t pick. They used a large needle threaded it through the stems to create bundles. These were then hung in the drying sheds. And the braver joined the boys in the river at noon.
At the end of the season tobacco auctions took place and buyers came from around the world.
Maybe the growing isn’t as romantic any more, but it is wonderful to see the rebirth of an industry.
Check out my holiday romance, Journey of the Magi, with a happy ending in Connecticut.
Noel is struggling to keep her promise to her children. A blizzard in Minnesota, a broken down car and lack of money halts their journey to a home in Connecticut. When the man of her dreams offers his help and love, can she resist? http://amzn.com/B00ES5DZEQ
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