In his book “The Greatest Generation,” Tom Brokaw pays tribute to “those men and women who have given us the lives we have today.” They are that American generation which “came of age in the Great Depression” and “answered the call to help save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled.” At the end of World War II, they “joined in joyous and short-lived celebrations, then immediately began the task of rebuilding their lives and the world they wanted.”
Brokaw wrote of the “wonders of these ordinary people whose lives are laced with the markings of greatness. At every stage of their lives they were part of historic challenges and achievements of a magnitude the world had never before witnessed.” He wrote, “I am in awe of them…”
We recently received a copy of another tribute to one member of that generation — a son's memorial to J.S. Reed Sr., a Delta farmer who produced more than 50 cotton crops during his lifetime. We reprint it here as a tribute to all those men and women of the Greatest Generation who inhabited and built our corner of America and who participated the 20th Century agricultural revolution.
A Memorial to J. C. Reed Sr.
By J. C. Reed Jr.
Many knew him, but those who knew him best overcame this world's challenges the same way he did: tending the soil and producing crops from it.
As he did, they have known years when rain was untimely and unrelenting; they have known years when rain was merely a rumor. As he did, they have known years when bugs were bad and markets worse. As he did, they have known years when the magic of soil, water, sunshine and crops waltzed through the growing season in a symphony the Farmer of the Universe wrote especially for those who work the land.
For him, as for all farmers, it was those years that made all the struggle, heartache and loss of past years worthwhile… years when rain had come, plenteous and timely, years when long summer days were hot and humid, and cotton's green blood, chlorophyll, raced in a delirium of photosynthesis from sunlight to leaves to soil to fruit, loading plants with bulging bolls that produced bountiful yields.
Years. For over fifty springs, this old farmer heeded the call of the land: “Come, plowman, I am warming now. Sow your seed.” He planted… he plowed… he nurtured and protected his crops… and, like those who knew him best, pushed himself beyond the limits of human endurance during harvest, racing against autumn's inevitable rains.
Years. In his youth he suffered through the abject penury of The Great Depression, when survival was a matter of taking whatever jobs came along and producing your own food, or going without. He once said no one has known real cold until they've milked cows in a freezing barn before daylight and have been swatted across the face with a burr-filled cow's tail. He once said no one has known real heat until they've tossed hay bales on moving wagons sunup to sundown on a torrid July day.
As a boy, this old farmer experienced those extremes, and they toughened him. They instilled in him a personal asset without which no one succeeds: a strong work ethic. He loved hard work. For him it was life's true elixir. The word “surrender” was not in his vocabulary. The poet Rudyard Kipling said a man of true grit is someone who can… “watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build 'em up again with worn-out tools….” This old farmer had true grit.
Years. During the years of World War II, when freedom-loving people around the globe looked to America to thwart the enslavement of tyranny, this young American answered the call.
An expert welder, he spent four years helping to rebuild battle-scarred warships so that they could sail back to distant seas and defeat the enemy.
His years are over now.
In this Delta, we bury our dead in the rich alluvial soil that nurtures us all. Then we go back to caring for the land and tending the crops. That is what the dead would want us to do.
Goodbye, Bossman. Goodbye, Father.
Jimmie C. Reed Sr. was born on Dec. 7, 1923. He died Nov. 12, 2004, at the age of 80. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard. After the war he returned to the Delta with his wife, the former Lena Menotti. They settled near Leland, Miss., where he rented a small amount of land and began a career as a cotton farmer. In 1953, he acquired Dunleith Farms and Gin. Upon retirement, he had produced over 50 cotton crops.
His survivors include six children, Gloria Virden, Greenville, Miss.; Susan Simon, Philadelphia, Pa.; Grace Brancheau, Dallas, Texas; David Reed, Leland, Miss.; Rodney Reed, Leland, Miss.; and Jimmy Reed Jr., Oxford, Miss.