Lampooned in a cotton mill

 

By Jay Hudson
Columnist

The people that made the National Lampoon movies ought to make a movie about living and working in a textile mill in the South.  Mills,  such as we had in North and South Carolina,  were like small towns inside a large building filled with machines and people. Anything could happen, and frequently did when you had over nine hundred people working in a mill.

By Jay Hudson On Rockingham

By Jay Hudson
On Rockingham

Old Chevy Chase would look nice as a cotton-mill cowboy with a tool belt hanging on his hip and wearing that devilish grin he has. He would also need a mouth full of chewing tobacco, and a head full of lint to complete his outfit.

Most everything that happened in a small town also happened in the cotton mills.  There were  lots of pranks, lots of preacher’,  lots of preaching, sometimes fighting, a lot of cussing, and lots of loving.

The preaching could be one of several different denominations too. It just depended on who cornered you first.

I never heard tell of anyone being murdered in a cotton mill, but it probably happened somewhere in the South.

One fight that I remember was between Preacher B., and another loom fixer.  I don’t know what caused the fight, but it was funny to see a tall, skinny, red-faced preacher with tattoos all over his arms, swinging a picker stick at another loom fixer. He was doing everything but cussing. Both men were swinging wildly like two cave men with clubs going after each other.

I don’t recall either one getting hurt though.

Loom fixers were in demand, so when one got fired for misbehaving, he was usually rehired the very next day by a supervisor on another shift.

Boys don’t really grow up do they?

As for the hanky panky, I saw plenty of that too.  A lot of stuff went on in dark corners and outside the building.  Several enterprising lovers would go outside and climb the ladder to the third story roof.
 I guess they enjoyed looking at the stars at night. These people were married too, but not to each other.

It got so bad that one fellow called the mill every night at ten minutes after shift change and asked me to go in the weave room and see if his wife had actually come to work. He called every night for over a year. I got so tired of it that, for the first time in my life, I started lying, “yeah, she’s here John Henry. I just saw her in the weave room.”
I hadn’t gone anywhere to check.

 All phone calls to the mill were routed to the supply room each day when the front-office people went home.  That’s why I was always answering the phone.

One fellow called there and said he knew I was running around with his wife and he was going to get me.  I don’t know where he got his information, but it was false.  I was 18 years old and  never had a date yet.

If the looms  happened to be running bad, all the fixers blamed the humidity man. The looms had to have the air humidity at about 75 percent in order to run properly without a lot of breakdowns.
It had to be in a very narrow range from 70% to 78%. If it wasn’t, the looms broke down constantly, and the fixers started cussing the humidity man.  It was that mans job to keep the humidity at the proper level.

The funniest incident I know of actually concerned me.  I was working the second shift at the time. The mill was running six days a week,  Monday through Saturday,  and I was a young fellow that wanted to get out of the mill early on Saturday night.  It was my job to turn out the lights in the supply room and the showers.The company  provided showers for the men who wanted to bathe before going home.
The shower was a large room with multiple shower heads so several people could shower just like in  a sports complex.

 I only remember two of us that ever took a shower there,  me, and a loom fixer named Andrew .  Old Andrew was a salty old fellow, older than my dad.  I think he was a WWII veteran who had seen it all and done it all.

His luck was about to change. He had only known me for a few weeks..

One Saturday night, I decided to skip my shower and take off about thirty minutes earlier than usual. That would have been fine, except I had to turn out all the lights in the supply room and the showers before I left. All the lights were controlled by a single breaker switch in the supply room.  Old Andrew was bare naked in the showers when I turned all the lights off.  I had forgotten that he might be taking a shower that night.
 I don’t know how he ever found his towel to dry off with in the dark.

Have you ever tried to find your clothes and dress in complete darkness?

By Sunday afternoon, word had already come to me that Andrew was telling people that he was going to cut my throat as soon as he saw me on Monday evening. I was worried too. I thought the old booger was really going to try to cut my throat.

When I got to work the next Monday afternoon, everybody was coming around to the supply room and asking me, ” has Andrew been around to see you yet?”  Everybody was laughing and joking about it.
I guess all the joking must have cooled Andrew down. When he finally came to the supply room, he didn’t mention cutting me.  He had calmed down and started laughing about it. He said he’d be damned if he ever expected  anything like that to happen to him.

Another funny part of that story is that for a short while Andrew’s granddaughter,  Nadine Moss worked in the supply room along side me.  We joked often  about Andrew’s shower. She thought it was funny that I turned the lights out on him. The playing never stopped. We threw bolt’s and washers at each other . It’s a wonder we didn’t get hit in an eye. Nadine’s favorite trick was to put thumb tacks in all the chairs. She was pretty good at placing them so they were almost invisible. If you ever sat on one, you became real careful after that.

Like I said, life in a cotton mill is just like it is in the rest of the World.

Jay Hudson is a native of Richmond County. He has been a NASCAR fan since the Daytona 500 in 1959 and considers Fred Lorenzen NASCAR’s first superstar and the best driver of all time. He lives in Rockingham.

Filed in: Latest Headlines, Opinion

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