Relishing life in Redwood|[6/25/06]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 25, 2006

94-year-old farmer Irma Hintson not letting age stand in way of living.

When Irma Hintson first began farming, he earned 65 cents for a day’s work – just shy of $4 in a long week.

Not bad, for a rural Warren County teenager in the 1920s, especially considering that, at 94, Hintson’s still tending plants every day for no money at all.

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&#8220I’m just out there bossin’ mostly,” said Hintson of his role in raising the 15-row patch of corn, watermelons, butterbeans, cucumbers, okra, peas, snapbeans and tomatoes next to his 58-year home off Mississippi 3, just south of the Yazoo County line.

But even if his daughter and grandson help with the heavier lifting these days, the nonagenarian is understating his duties when he says, &#8220I can’t do much.” Hintson lives alone – he is a widower, after 58 years of marriage to Elsie Dixon Hintson – and gets out most days, even when temperatures surpass his age, inspecting the 750-cubic-foot plot from his personal motorized scooter. He still drives his truck in the morning into Redwood for a cup of coffee, and to the neighbors’ houses to visit and check out what the competition’s growing. He’s active at Redwood Methodist Church and with his five young great-grandchildren.

&#8220I tell him, at 94, most people would want to sit in the shade,” said his daughter, Loraine Lee, who lives two houses from her father and is often at his house.

The work ethic that fuels Hintson’s restlessness, though, was definitely not forged in the shade. His early low wage gave way to more profitable prospects in a few years, after he graduated with two others from Oak Ridge High School. He bought 25 acres that would eventually grow to 420 in an L-shaped plot across Mississippi 3 from his current house. There, he grew beans, corn, wheat and cotton, sometimes hauling 40 men from Vicksburg to pick in a day what Hintson recently saw one man using modern technology pick in about 20 minutes. The family also raised hogs and cattle and their feed.

&#8220I started driving a tractor for him by myself when I was 9 years old,” said his grandson, Tom Lee, Loraine’s son. &#8220If he had his second legs under him, he’d kill us today. He’d work us to death.”

Instead, Hintson needs his walker today to get around the house and the scooter to go outside. He struggles sometimes with his breathing – he said he has never smoked, but guesses years of riding a tractor with no way to filter engine exhaust could have had roughly the same effects. A woman comes in the mornings to help cook, clean and do other chores. The land still affords a living, but the farm’s run now by his grandson, Tom.

&#8220He believes in work,” Loraine Lee said. &#8220It’s hard for him to not be able to work the way he thinks he’s supposed to.”

So Hintson keeps his garden, and the work there this year has paid off in giant watermelons and corn plants Hintson sometimes robs to eat right out of the stalk. The practice isn’t a favorite of his daughter, who worries about pesticides, but when you’ve lived through two world wars, a depression and decades under the unrelenting Mississippi sun, there’s not much incentive to wait.

&#8220It won’t hurt you,” he said. &#8220If it did, I’d be dead.”