I use the statement of “Still got Cotton in My Blood” on most everything I write. It’s not because I have actual particles of the little white stuff running through my blood stream, although there may be a little trapped in my lungs I’m told, from breathing in Cotton Dust. I really don’t know.
I do know that growing up in a Cotton Mill Village was a culture all its own, a way of life that we grew up in, and relished. We looked different, but yet were all the same. We had the same amenities of most any Mill village, and enjoyed them as much as we could afford.
Parents, and/or grandparents that worked in the mill worked hard. But you never heard them complain. I asked my grandmother about that after I had joined the Navy and was home on leave.
She said they were living in Cherokee County Georgia in a small cabin about a mile down a trail behind Hightower Baptist church. My grandfather was sharecropping, and they were just barely scratching out enough to eat, and feed three baby girls, then one day Grandfather walked in from the fields and told her the mule just fell dead.
They had friends in Lindale, he emptied his pockets, giving her everything he had and walked to Lindale to get a job in the mill. It was three months before he came back with a cousin and a truck.
When they got to the village and she saw the houses where the workers lived, she said she began to give thanks to her maker. From that day till she passed away she loved living in the village. She said they were living high on the hog. There was a pasture and barn for your cow, and a pen for your hog. A small garden spot if you wished to have a garden, along with a doctor and a medical staff. She had two more children after moving into the village and a school to send them too. It only went through the eighth grade, but was upgraded to a high school eventually. My grandfather worked in the dye house. It was hard work with long hours, but he never complained. Those were my mother’s parents.
On my father’s side it was similar. My grandfather Ragland lost his little farm in the mid twenties up in Chattooga County. Three years of fighting Boll Weavels forced him also to come to Lindale looking for work, and he found it.
Growing up in the village was normal for the kids. We looked forward to Christmas each year, and the vacation the Company gave to its employee’s over the 4th of July. The number of days they got was determined by what kind of contracts they were filling. It would be somewhere between four and six, with a bonus for each worker. I think Panama City was the destination of most.
You see, you got into a groove, not a rut. We didn’t know anything else, and many young folks my age were expected to come into the mill as they became of age, and many did.
The stores on Broad Street in Rome sure didn’t look down on mill hands. They loved them. The business created by the village folk shopping in their stores were a big part of their retail. You were welcome anywhere in town.
After I went to work in number three weave shop cleaning looms, I would get covered in grease, sweat, and cotton. We would use an air hose to get some of it off before leaving if we could dodge a second hand, because they frowned on it. The truth is, it was dangerous. Pieces of steel at times came out of the hose and would cut into you. To get hit in the eye would have been a bad time all around.
One night my dad, whom I rode with, said after we got off. “Let’s go to the Krystal on Broad, and get something to eat.” I asked him if he would go in the Krystal if he was as nasty as I was. I remember what he said. “You worked hard to get that dirty, and a working man should never be ashamed of the way he looks if he got that way making a living.” We went, and nobody there said a word, in fact there were others just as bad as I was, from around the county.
I never thought that I was poor till I went into the Navy. I had some Yankee’s that made fun of the few Southerners on board when they could. Yes, we dished it out too. My Submarine had a compliment of around eighty, Officers and men.
This one guy I worked for came from Maine, and he was always saying the South was the septic tank of the country and that I’d most likely get out and marry my sister. I knew that was a lie, because I didn’t have a sister. The things I said to him can’t be repeated in a printed column, and I don’t talk that way anymore.
“Still Got Cotton in My Blood” it’s a heritage thing. I was raised on Mill Village money, and am proud of it. I only worked for two and a half summers in the mill, and at the time hated every minute of it. But now, I wouldn’t take anything for those summers. To me it was a way to establish contact with both grandfathers, and my parents. I left and did something else. They went into the Mill during the depression, and were glad to have the opportunity.
It was an industry that sustained thousands of us, taught us how to live, love, and work. And yes, it’s in our genes, and most definitely in our blood.
Mike Ragland is a historian and local author of several books including:”Bertha”, “A Time to Gather Stones”, “The Legend of the Courage Wolf”, “Living with Lucy”. To learn more about Mike Ragland, visit http://www.mikeragland.com/