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Tag Archives: Appalachia

“Cotton Mill Colic”

Doffers and sweepers, 1908. Lewis Hine. New York Times

Doffers and sweepers in 1908

McCarn wrote “Cotton Mill Colic” in 1926. Released on record in August, 1930, it was soon being sung by striking Piedmont mill workers. Absolute truth about the lives of mill workers was real to the cotton mill families. Probably it is McCarn’s best composition; revealing with wry humour the often grim situation of the millhand unable to get straight financially.

When you buy clothes on easy terms,
Collectors treat you like measly worms.
One dollar down, then Lord knows,
If you can’t make a payment, they’ll take your clothes.
When you go to bed you can’t sleep,
You owe so much at the end of the week.
No use to colic, they’re all that way,
Pecking at your door till they get your pay.
I’m a-gonna starve, and everybody will,
‘Cause you can’t make a living at a cotton mill.

When you go to work you work like the devil,
At the end of the week you’re not on the level.
Payday comes, you pay your rent,
When you get through you’ve notgot a cent
To buy fat-back meat, pinto beans,
Now and then you get turnip greens.
No use to colic, we’re all that way,
Can’t get the money to move away.
I’m a-gonna starve, and everybody will,
‘Cause you can’t make a living at a cotton mill.

Twelve dollars a week is all we get,
How in the heck can we live on that?
I’ve got a wife and fourteen kids,
We all have to sleep on two bedsteads.
Patches on my britches, holes in my hat,
Ain’t had a shave, my wife got fat.
No use to colic, everyday at noon,
The kids get to crying in a different tune.
I’m a-gonna starve, and everybody will,
‘Cause you can’t make a living at a cotton mill.

They run a few days and then they stand,
Just to keep down the working man.
We can’t make it, we never will,
As long as we stay at a lousy mill.
The poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer,
If you don’t starve, I’m a son of a gun.
No use to colic, no use to rave,
We’ll never rest till we’re in our grave.
I’m a-gonna starve, and everybody will,
‘Cause you can’t make a living at a cotton mill.

5. According to the photographer, everyone in this family photo works at the mill.

According to the photographer, this Spartanburg family all worked in the cotton mill.

16. This photo taken in May 1912 shows a young boy walking ahead of some adult workers.

The boy above was Eddie Norton, who worked in Saxon Mill, Spartanburg. He has just completed a twelve-hour shift, along with those behind him. He probably made around 40 cents an hour, but this contributed to the family’s finances.

High hopes and dreams of a weekly pay check, a home, and a steady job brought the first workers to the cotton mills. Leaving the Appalachian mountains, their lives became controlled by a mill whistle, but the families stuck together. Both young and old might stay “worn slap out,” but “if your blood kin, then ye stick together no matter what.”

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The Mill Village Company Store

When new mill workers left their homes in the Appalachian mountains. they brought little. A farm wagon carried both the family and their household goods. The mills provided houses to rent, schools for the children, sometimes a rec hall, and a company store.

Image result for photo of company stores at mill village

 

Image result for photo of company stores at mill village

Looking back at his childhood memories, Gerald Teaster recalls the  Company Store where his parents worked.

The best way to describe the Company Store is to say that it was a smaller version of a Wal-Mart store today. It was way before its time. It had many more items for sale than a typical small town general store of that era. It was a combination hardware, furniture, grocery, clothing, shoe and sporting goods store, all under one roof. 

There was no other store anywhere close to Pacolet that had the variety and quantity of things for sale that the Company Store had. In looking back, there were almost no stores in the city of Spartanburg that had the variety of things it did. Probably, the only store that could have come close to matching it would have been a Sears store. Spartanburg did have a Sears but I don’t think that it was opened until the early 1950’s.

As a child, I remember my parents taking me to the Company Store to buy me shoes and boots, usually when school started. (Many children, myself included, went barefooted almost all of the time from about May 1 until the first day of school in the fall.) 

When I came to the store with my parents for other things, I always left them to go and look at the sports equipment, particularly the baseball gloves and bats. The store also sold all sorts of fishing equipment, and if I remember correctly, rifles and shotguns, .22 bullets and shotgun shells. I think that you could also order coal for your fireplace and ice for an icebox at the store.

During the Depression, the mill sometimes paid their employees with their own script. These paper coupons could be used in the company store just like money. Also, employees could set up a charge account at the store. Charging items one week would be subtracted from their pay checks the next.

John’s mother bought most of her staples at the company store at the Union Mill. Lois had a twenty-five pound bin in a kitchen cabinet with an attached sifter, so she would buy that size bag of Martha White flour to fill it up. She bought five pounds of dried beans, ten pounds of sugar, salt, hog feed all in cloth bags. All these cloth bags were recycled into either clothes or household uses.

She filled her own metal cans from an available metal drum; Tom and John lugged it home for her. The Excelsior Mill made socks and threw away the tops when they were trimmed. All the women went to the mill’s trash bin to gather up the sock tops. Then they made hot pot pads with them. The boys used those pads to carry the kerosene can. (Those pads also made good Christmas presents.)

King Syrup was another staple in her household. This maple syrup in a one gallon can didn’t last long with four sons. Lois baked biscuits every morning, and they were drenched with homemade butter and syrup. A church key opened the can, and it had to be wiped clean after use to keep the ants away.

Image result for photo of tin of King Syrup

Sewing notions were a popular item at the company store. Lois bought material, buttons, snaps, zippers, and thread. Using her pedal-driven Singer sewing machine, she was a whiz at creating clothes from her own patterns that she had made from newspapers.

Image result for photo of pedal driven singer sewing machine

Mason jars were another staple in the Ingle household from the Company Store. Lois put up everything from her garden and fruit trees. Then whatever anyone else shared was canned for use later.

John and Tom owned a Radio Flyer. Each time, Lois went to the store, the wagon traveled with her. Empty on the way there, but filled to overflowing on the road back home.

Tomorrow, I am meeting some friends at a restaurant here in Spartanburg. The name is The Standard, and it is located in the old Company Store at Drayton Mills.”The building has a cruciform layout, a slate hipped roof, and pressed tin ceilings inside. During the mill’s heyday, the building housed a grocery store, post office, business offices, and other operations.”

Isn’t it a good thing when buildings can be restored? I believe I will wonder where the King Syrup and bolts of cloth once were available.

 

 

Appalachia and Bee Keeping

I grew up with a Mom who could make the most delicious biscuits. They were always topped with butter and something sweet falling off the sides. Strawberry, blackberry, or peach preserves were my favorites, but molasses, sorghum, or honey were not to be turned down.

The biscuits were never big enough. When no one was looking, my brother and I would catch any of those toppings with our tongues or our fingers. It was all too good to waste.

These biscuits make for a perfect snack throughout the day or as a sweet side for a savory dinner.

English settlers moving into our country brought the practice of bee keeping with them. Long before sugar cones were in the Indian traders’ wagons, honey was always on the table for cornbread, oatmeal, or a drizzle for pancakes. Most Appalachian farms had several hives making honey to eat at home, share with friends in another holler or mountain top, or bartered for other necessities. Tulip poplar, clover, and sourwood became the most popular.

Image result for photo of 19th century bee hives

Image result for photo of 19th century bee hives

Since we had family in Hendersonville, NC, Mother made trips to the farmer’s market there to buy our honey. Labelled and sold in pint or quart jars by the beekeepers themselves, our family treated the honey like the prize it was. She always bought two quarts. Safely stored in a corner cabinet, it was a celebration to bring the jar to the table.

Since the study of science is not part of my background, I have been surprised to learn the usefulness of honey.

Albert Einstein once remarked, quite seriously, “If bees vanished from the face of the earth, mankind would only exist for four more years. Without bees, there’s no pollinating, no grass, no animals, no people.”

bee on butterfly weed

Several traditional Appalachian folk-remedies support medicinal effects of local honey. One is that honey prevents or lessens the severity of seasonal allergies. It is suggested that individuals that swallow a tablespoon of local honey every day (which contains trace amounts of local pollen) boost their immune system and have greater resistance to the allergens produced by local flowering plants. (It makes sense that the honey is akin to an allergy shot and certainly more appetizing.)

As a sleep aid, cough suppressant, or a treatment for burns or wounds, honey is effective medicine. Some people refer to it still as liquid gold. Since it is been used for over 2,000 years, it seems that it has earned this name. To raise bees is to live close to nature and savor its bounty.

In one of the stories in Tales of a Cosmic Possum (release date October 14, 2017), I wrote about John’s great grandfather, William Gaither Ingle, and the bees he raised on Green Knob Mountain in Erwin, Tennessee, in the early days of the twentieth century. Living off the land was a hard struggle. Every bee hive was important; bears were unwelcome intruders.

 

WilliamGaither&lizziewith Fannie.jpg

Above is a photo of William Gaither, his wife Jane Elizabeth, and their daughter Fannie. Perhaps the intensity of their stares speak to their beautiful, but harsh, geographical location. Or they are telling of their hard-working and self-sufficient lives where they are beholden to no man. Then look at how close they are to each other – almost squeezed together. Whether child or adult, Appalachian members stay bound to their family. They are proud of their family.

Vince Havner, a North Carolina minister and author, said, “The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps – we must step up the stairs.”

So what is your vision today? Are you going to follow through? Mine was to unjumble some thoughts about Appalachia and make a peach cobbler. It is now to time for the peaches!

 

Focus on the Family

I enjoy writing about families; my first books were about strong SC women and their families during the Revolutionary War. Researching that era made me realize the hard lives of two hundred years ago, and walking behind them at their home sites was a pleasure.

Then I wrote a piece about my dad’s years at the Citadel and how his junior class was sent to WW II. Interviewing him and his class mates taught me much about that Greatest Generation. Their tightness as friends in their 80’s was forged in their 20’s by their war experiences.

Next was an article on two audacious sisters in Greenville, SC who drove to ask Frank Lloyd Wright to draw the blueprints for their new house and he did. Being able to walk in that house and sit in the living room opened my eyes to an architecture that I had previously not appreciated. Having lunch with their contractor  and listening to him describe the materials he used gave an invisible depth to this home.

I have finished eight short stories about past generations of women in my husband’s family that worked in the cotton mills in SC. One will be published in the Savannah Anthology next month. Though I had met several of them, I had no idea of their challenges as mill workers; this was eye-opening.

After writing about John’s third great grandfather and three brothers who fought in the Battle of Fredericksburg, I learned much about their Appalachian history. I now have a visual of those tall, lanky, bearded, and blue-eyed men who wore slouch hats and ran into that bloody battle. Last summer, we walked along the Sunken Road where this grandfather died.

Looking back on these past ten years of retirement, I can see that my focus continues to stay on the same page, as my muse works with me to keep writing family stories.

Whether it is my family, your family, or a stranger’s family, they are all going to be a mixed bag of personalities and characters. One of my ancestors is the most famous thief in America, Jessie James. My grandmother always proclaimed he was maligned and more like Robin Hood. I am ready to discover his back story and maybe prove Lulu accurate.

We need to share our stories with the next generation. Seven years ago, I found myself the matriarch on both sides of my family. It was not a position I chose or was ready for. When my cousin Bobby accurately dubbed me the matriarch, I refused the title. Now I am intentionally sharing our stories, and they are my gift to the next generations.

Today, as I answered in an author’s site about what drove me to write, I realized again that my writing is a tribute to my family and other families. Can I suggest you tell your stories, too?

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”– Mother Teresa

“Do Lord, Do Lord, Do Remember Me”

On our summer vacation trips, Daddy taught us lots of songs. “Do Lord” was one of those that we enjoyed singing and clapping our hands to. The melody and lyrics are simple, but it is one of those tapping-the-feet songs.

There were times that we sang it at family reunions and in Sunday School. Unless you’re in a car, a person has to stand to sing, because sitting just won’t do. “Do Lord” is such a fun song. Adults also liked it; their smiles, hands, and feet proclaimed their enjoyment.

John’s family used to sing it in church and on the porches as a family.

In 1925 Garner Bros. released the first recording of this song. Johnny Cash made it famous. Even though an author isn’t clearly identified for this gospel song, it is attributed to Julia Ward Lowe, speaker, author, and promoter of women’s rights.

Image result for julia ward howe

“Do Lord” also falls into the category of a camp song. At camp, children sing songs that are fun, upbeat, harmonious, or inspiring. Most of all, the songs are easy to sing and remember.
They sing folk songs; spirituals; patriotic songs; religious songs; fun, nonsense, novelty, action songs; and melodious (rounds, partner songs).

I have seen “Do Lord” listed as a spiritual, along with “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” and “When the Saints go Marching In.”

Songs are universal. I can remember at church camps one of the favorites, accompanied by a guitar, was “Kum Bah Yah, My Lord, Kum Bah Yah.” Just recently I found out there were other versions: French: “Venez par ici, mon ami,” Spanish: “Venaca, amigo, venaca,”Russian: “Prihadi, moi druk, prihadi,” and
Japanese: “Wareno, motoni, kitare.”

Folk song writer, Pete Seegar, pronounced the importance of song with these comments.

“Once upon a time, wasn’t singing a part of everyday life as much as talking, physical exercise, and religion? Our distant ancestors, wherever they were in the world, sang while pounding grain, paddling canoes, or walking long journeys. Can we begin to make our lives, once more, all of a piece? Finding the right songs and singing them over and over is a way to start. And as one person taps out a beat while another leads into the melody, or when three people discover a harmony they never knew existed, or a crowd joins in on a chorus as though to raise the ceiling a few feet higher, then they also know there is hope for the world.”

The floods in Kentucky, my dad’s home state, have shattered both homes and communities this week of July, 2015. Pictures of houses floating in flash floods have been terrifying. Acts of nature debilitate and destroy on one hand and give joy on the other; the weather is fickle. The regions of Appalachia have given us so many songs through the years: soulful melodies and lyrics that look backward and forward. With the inborn strength of preserving their culture, I know they will build again. I am sorry they are faced with another endurance test.

Let’s hope together and sing along,
/www.youtube.com/watch?v=plA2vi7mWc0

Cosmic Possum

I finished reading Sharyn McCumb’s book, The Songcatcher, this morning. As in all of her writing, I learned more about the Appalachia land and people.

When I was reading yesterday, she introduced the term “cosmic possum.” I laughed out loud when I read it, as one of the characters was called by this name. Yes, it tickled my funny bone, and I didn’t know why.

Then today she defined it on page 218, and I realized I am thirty-five-years married to a cosmic possum. Then I really laughed knowing that my husband John has a new nickname.

He is a child born to parents who are first-generation out of the Tennessee hills. His grandparents lived in a cabin on Green Knob Mountain before they moved to South Carolina. They traveled in a wagon headed for work in an upstate mill.

John, his brothers, and cousins were raised in Ingle Hollar. Grandfather Ingle bought land outside of Union, South Carolina and sold plots of it to his family.They were a tight clan.

He listened to his father and uncles make music on the porches with fiddles, banjos, mandolins, and dulcimers and still remembers those family songs. John didn’t live in those mountains around Erwin, but he heard the life stories. He grew up churning butter, and we have his grandmother’s butter mold and his mother’s dough bowl.

His mother taught him how to shoot a rifle, and she was a crack shot. She practiced her marksmanship by lighting matches stuck in a chopping block outside. As they did in the mountains, John’s father, uncles, and grandfather built their homes.

Last summer, I started interviewing John about the women in his family. I had been listening to the stories of his life growing up in Union ever since we met. He is the keeper of the family stories and enjoys sharing them. I am writing short stories about this bye-gone time in the mill villages of South Carolina, as the Ingle family transitioned into an unknown textile community away from the support of the land.

That first generation passed on a love of home to their children. They literally moved away from the Appalachian mountains, but they brought parts of it with them. Even as they quilted, smoked their hand-rolled cigarettes, and enjoyed beans and cornbread, they also listened to the radio, bought cars, and wanted education for their children. They kept the best of the past and moved into the future.

Heritage is lost when the storytellers are no longer with us. If you are the storyteller in your family, it might be time to write down those stories.

Do you have a cosmic possum in your life? Then you have a treasure-trove waiting for you!